If someone from Etihad Airways is reading, do Walter Walsh a favour and renew his RTÉ man-of-the-match voucher from the 2012 All-Ireland final. The man is too humble to ask himself.
“I think it’s expired now,” he smiles of his prize for that stunning bolter display against Galway. “I was in my final year of college and couldn’t get the week off UCD, in between the All- Ireland and that Christmas. “
The piece of crystal to go with it capped off the three most tumultuous days of the then 21-year-old’s life.
Just over 48 hours beforehand, he was a fringe player hoping against hope his name would be on the team-sheet when, as per custom, it was revealed after Friday’s training.
“We typically have meetings the Friday night before a big game on the Sunday. Normally, there’s a clipboard there and the team is revealed. When the page was flicked back, I didn’t expect to see my name there.
“But it was. And I was quite shocked, as you can imagine.”
The likes of Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh and David Herity soon went to work on reassuring Walsh he was worthy of his place and to “treat it like any other game”.
He spent the Saturday trying to ignore the abundance of good-will text messages, instead keeping himself hydrated and doing some menial work around the family farm to pass the time.
Sleeping in his own bed that night helped too. “I was quite relaxed about that game. I’d say I’d be even more nervous about the games now. I was just very relaxed maybe because I didn’t know and it was all new to me.”
Between the drawn game and the replay, he hadn’t much chance to stake a claim on the “B” team in training.
“There wasn’t much A v B played,” he explained. “It was just teams were mixed up and it was just good tough training. So, to be honest, I wasn’t thinking about starting at all. I was hopeful of coming on in the game.
“That’s what I said to myself. I thought I was going well in training, getting a few scores and that.”
But when the opportunity came he didn’t so much take it with both hands as grab it. Scoring 1-3, he was an outstanding performer on the day.
“It was surreal at the time. I was in shock after the game and wasn’t even thinking about man of the match until the banquet in City West when someone said it to me. I was delighted winning an All-Ireland. That’s what it’s all about. Personal things come after.”
Brian Cody still operates the clipboard team announcement and Walsh admits he always pessimistic about seeing his name in the starting line-up. “The way I look at it, I still never expect to see my name. So you’d still be nervous going into those meetings and whether you get to start or not. And that’s the way it is. I suppose the competition for places is so much in Kilkenny and every time I do see my name, I’m just delighted.”
Because there have been occasions when “W Walsh” hasn’t been allocated a starting jersey. Like last year’s All-Ireland final replay. “It was different,” he recalls. “Every player wants to be playing. I was just hopeful I would come on and again you’re just delighted to win the All-Ireland. You want to be playing but if someone is going better than you they deserve to be playing. And that’s the way it was. John Power was brilliant that day, scored 1-2..”
The demotion galvanised Walsh to make a pact with himself, one that he has thus far delivered on. “You set yourself targets and mine was to play every game, start every game. And I have actually started every league and championship game this year. So that was the target. But you can never be too sure.”
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