It is a safe assumption that Walter Walsh and Shane O’Donnell will never stand side by side in any identity parade.
With six inches in height and three stones in weight setting them apart, hurling’s prodigious young forwards couldn’t be more different physically.
History will forever pair them off, however, as the little known players who burst into the national consciousness with their respective efforts in consecutive All-Ireland final replays.
O’Donnell, of course, was the 19-year-old who came from the depths of the Clare panel to shoot a remarkable 3-3 in last September’s epic win over Cork.
A year earlier, Walsh was that same soldier, sniping a game breaking 1-3 tally on his debut for Kilkenny to kill Galway off after a two-game battle.
Where O’Donnell goes from here will be the subject of great debate in bars all around Clare in the coming weeks.
Walsh, now 22, has already had his second season — or first full one — and it didn’t go to plan. Not by a long shot.
There was a league winner’s medal, but a shock championship exit in July put the tin hat on an injury-affected season. Walsh could do little about the injuries but concedes it was “daunting” heading into 2013 under the same sort of pressure that O’Donnell is now subject to.
“Obviously it might have been a bit difficult after the final because people were expecting a lot,” said Walsh.
“But I tried to just totally block it out and I tried to focus only on getting my place back in the team.
“The Kilkenny team is very hard to make and I was hoping it would go well for me. I did get to start in the Championship and that’s what I was hoping for.
“At the start, I suppose it was daunting, a bit surreal. Looking back, it was made less difficult by the players around you. Like, I remember Henry Shefflin, JJ Delaney and David Herity, who was very good with me in particular, they were all just talking me through it, making sure I wasn’t too nervous.
“It did help to have so many leaders in there, it made it a bit easier. Unfortunately, I have tendonitis in both of my knees which needs to be minded better. I missed the first couple of games in the league, played the Cork game and was back for the semi-final against Galway, but I hyper extended my elbow.
“That put me out for six, seven weeks so it was an off and on sort of preparation for the championship. But I’m feeling good now, my knees are well managed. I have a programme for that so I’m looking forward to an injury-free year.”
Walsh himself doesn’t offer much up when asked to compare himself to O’Donnell.
“Well, Shane had played a good few championship matches prior to the final but obviously it was a great day for him, he scored 3-3,” continued Walsh. “I think he’s below in UCC this year so I might get to play against him in the Fitzgibbon before the league where we have Clare first.”
Kilkenny are pencilled in to play Wexford in a challenge game in New Ross on Sunday. After that it will be head-long into the business of pre-season preparations, with so much more expected of Kilkenny in 2014.
So far, the core of their ageing team has remained perfectly intact, though boss Brian Cody has overhauled the management side of things with Martin Fogarty effectively replaced by former greats Derek Lyng and James McGarry.
Like the rest of the hurling world, Clare are the target firmly set in Kilkenny’s sights approaching the new season. The Banner County currently possess the MacCarthy Cup that Walsh helped secure for Kilkenny at the end of 2012.
And, fittingly, the sides will meet in the opening round of next season’s Allianz League in Ennis, where their contrasting styles will be pitted against one another.
“I suppose they would be clashing styles,” said Walsh. “Davy Fitzgerald is after bringing in a new style with Clare, a short passing game that works well for them. I’m not sure if they’ll go with the same tactics next year. You’d imagine they would after winning an All-Ireland but who knows. I’m not too sure what Kilkenny’s tactics are going to be. We’ll see.”
Clarinbridge calls for oversized hurley ban
By Declan Rooney
A club in Galway has put forward a motion calling on the GAA authorities to ban goalkeepers using their oversized hurleys when taking frees and penalties.
Clarinbridge have called for extra large hurleys to be outlawed in such circumstances, meaning all players would have to comply to the rule banning hurleys bigger than 13cm at their widest point. In recent times Davy Fitzgerald, Damien Fitzhenry and more lately Anthony Nash have become renowned for the power of their strikes.
Nut Clarinbridge hope such an advantage will be nullified in the coming years. And, according to club chairman Aidan Quinn, club delegates see no reason why goalkeepers should be allowed gain such an advantage.
“It really has gotten out of hand in the last few years. We cannot see any reason why a goalkeeper should be given such an advantage. Recently Anthony Nash is the obvious example but we even seen it at club level.
“It make sense the likes of Nash will puck the ball harder than an outfield player. The size of the bas means more weight in the hurl and that means a more powerful shot. Why should he or any goalkeeper get an advantage over the likes of Joe Canning? Like outfield players goalkeepers use what they are used to. Outfield players couldn’t use the big stick so why should goalkeeper get an unfair advantage.”
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