Kevin Walsh: GAA needs to 'move on from just running around the pitches in the middle of winter'

Galway manager Kevin Walsh. Picture: INPHO/Mike Shaughnessy

Kevin Walsh purses his lips and starts doing the maths.

How many hours a week would he put in as Galway manager? You may as well ask the length of a piece of string. He wrestles with the equation before offering up a rough estimate. “At this time of year, I’d be saying maybe 60, 70.”

That’s not definitive. It might be 59, he explains by way of mitigation. As though such a number would make the demands of the role of inter-county manager seem any less taxing and he can only laugh when asked what he does in the real world.

“By the looks of it, not a lot,” he says. “It’s analysis, it’s talking to everyone. I’m not 70 hours (at the centre of excellence) but you are on the phone to players and different things. People ask questions and that’s the type of environment we want here. If someone is not sure of something then they can feel comfortable to ask about it.”

Walsh has been performing these gigs under one guise or another for years now. He spent time with the Galway ladies, took charge of the Aran Island junior ‘A’ side for a season and was a member of John O’Mahony’s officer corps when the latter was at the helm with Galway.

Sligo was the first time he fronted his own band on the national stage and he and they made some decent music.

Successive promotions took them from the bottom tier to Division Two and there was an All-Ireland Junior title to go with two narrow defeats in the final of the provincial senior championship.

Just as notable was the stint of his service.

Few outside managers last six years in any bainisteoir’s bib but that long-term focus is something he brought back to Galway when he took over from Alan Mulholland in 2014.

He has used words like sustainability, culture and environment. None are quickfire projects.

Gary Sice gave an illuminating interview last year when he credited Walsh with supplying the tools needed to overcome what he labelled the “bully boy” tactics of a Mayo side that has established a vice-like grip on the province.

He touched on the manager’s long-term plan and the change in focus that turned a talented but flaky Galway side into one capable of throwing a spanner in the works of the Mayo machine and his approach has been vindicated by a steady stream of new and not-so-new blood into the panel.

“I like coaching, and I do a lot of it on the field, but to get the best out of that we have a mantra inside that we look after the person first. The personal qualities are what will bring out a performance. It will bring out the psychological reset. It will bring out everything else in a player that you require.

“The GAA has to move on from just running around the pitches in the middle of winter. There is lots to be learned out there. Learning is crucial and that is something we would put high priority on: Personal development and development of skills.

“To be judging people on where they are on results is just wrong. We would not judge ourselves on results for a certain amount of time but, at some stage, results have to start coming and start showing that we are doing the right thing.”

That process has started.

Successive promotions have ensured Division One football next spring and the Tribesmen face Roscommon on home soil later this week seeking to secure what would be just a second back-to-back of Connacht title in the last three decades.

Walsh is embracing the challenge but a strong filter is paramount.

He has no doubt but that the demands on managers have multiplied even since his Sligo days. The tactical side of it alone has advanced to a point that used to be reserved for a sport like basketball and there’s other spokes to the wheel including technology, nutrition and much more besides.

“I’ve a motto myself that less is more at times. It’s the small percentages you can get from that and knowing not to use it and when to use it. If you’re trying to do too much, everything’s neglected. There’s a huge balance on what’s the right thing. You have these GPS systems and all this type of stuff.

“You hear these celebrity journalists shouting about 13 kilometres and I’d be more into seven or eight kilometres if that’s required in the right places. It’s important we don’t get hoodwinked by a certain amount of that stuff and say, ‘This is great’ when you’re actually missing out on the big trick.”

That bigger picture will become all the clearer come Sunday.


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