Walsh focuses on the final picture after eye scare

Munster GAA chiefs will not be bringing in extra security for this weekend’s hurling final, but have called on fans to stay off the field at the end of the game.

The move comes after Limerick’s Stephen Walsh was almost ruled out of the clash with Cork after he received an eye injury during the pitch invasion following the semi-final win over Tipperary. Without being able to draft in greater resources, however, the Munster Council are keen for fans to obey safety messages.

“There won’t be any more of a security presence than usual,” said Munster PRO Ed Donnelly.

“For all games, though, we would ask supporters not to encroach onto the playing area and that same appeal will be made on Sunday.

“I know that Croke Park have had a great record in stopping pitch encroachments, but they have far more manpower available and we don’t have the manpower or the set-up in any field in Munster to actively prevent incursions.”

Walsh revealed how he survived over 70 torrid minutes against a Tipperary attack bristling with threat but suffered a freak injury during the frenzied on-pitch after-match celebrations that almost cost him his place in the final.

“We were on the field for about three-quarters of an hour afterwards but in the midst of it all a supporter ended up sticking his finger in my eye!

“I didn’t notice it at the time but there was a photo in the paper that week, on the Thursday, and you can clearly see someone with their finger in my eye. I got an ulcer in my eye because of it.

“I wear contacts, put them in afterwards and that deprived the eye of oxygen, which caused an ulcer on the scratch. I didn’t think anything of it till the Monday, woke up and the eye was sore. I tried to put in the contacts but no, wasn’t having any of it.

“I put off doing anything about it but by Wednesday it was unbearable and I was sent to CUH [Cork University Hospital]. They told me no contact lenses for four to six weeks and I was thinking, ‘Jesus, this is the last thing I need’.”

Fortunately, Walsh is a fast healer.

“I went to my own ophthalmic consultant in Cork and at that stage it was starting to heal up, but I actually had to play two championship games with the club with one eye. It was a nightmare.

“I was two weeks without the lenses but eventually I was able to use them. I’m fine now again, thank God, but it was a funny one looking back on it, how people can get carried away in the heat of the moment.”

But the poke in the eye wasn’t the only thing that caused Stephen problems the last day. That day, much like the one forecast for Sunday, was hot and the players paid the price for it on the field.

“I remember the heat was incredible,” he said. “I never experienced heat like it. You were trying to catch your breath from the moment the ball was thrown in, almost in a daze. All you’re seeing is the ball, watching your own man, but things were kind of zipping past. You’re trying to cover your own patch, give a dig-out to whoever was beside you, but we were delighted to get back into the dressing-room at half-time.

“The lads were looking at each other, everyone trying to get their breath back again. We had dampened ice-cold towels over our heads to try to bring down the temperature. It was incredibly hot. Little things, like in the warm-up we tried to stay in the shade but still the sweat was pouring out of you.”

Thankfully, it eased off after the break and following an early wobble when they conceded the lead built up in the opening half, Limerick were able to drive on.

“The second half we went out and it didn’t seem to be as bad heat-wise. Hot all right for the first 15 minutes, we were going okay but all of a sudden they got their goal.

“What was very important then was that we went straight back down the field and got a point [Seánie Tobin], that kind of settled us again. Other years we didn’t get that break. We worked hard too, won a few frees. Things like that went our way. As the game went on momentum shifted towards us.

“I know people say lack of fitness or lack of experience caught us last year but I think we learned from that, we kept our cool, no one panicked, we stuck to the game plan. Luck played a big part too, we got the break of the ball we didn’t get last year.”

No good now of course, unless they back it up this Sunday.

“Definitely, yes, as players we’ve been striving for the last few years to make the breakthrough, to make a name for ourselves, put the county back on the hurling map. We’re well aware as a sporting county that people here crave success; we want it as much as they do and we’ll stop at nothing to get another big performance and, hopefully, get a win at the finish.”


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