LAST week Denis Walsh was fielding questions at the Cork senior hurlers press night when he was asked to take a trip down memory lane.
Walsh was invited to revisit his first posting as a senior inter-county manager – his tenure as Waterford football manager at the start of the decade.
The Cork boss pinpointed two players with little prompting: Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh and his namesake Shane, both of whom have starred for their county’s hurlers in recent years.
“They were only just out of minor, the both of them,” recalled Walsh.
“I hadn’t seen much of them as hurlers, but if they were in any other county football-wise, they’d be automatics.
“I would have said many a time that Michael Walsh, who is a natural midfielder, if he was down in Kerry he’d have been in there for the last eight years in the middle of the field.
“I wasn’t scouting for hurlers when I was in charge of the footballers but I knew from their mentality, the day I said good luck to them I think I said that if they were as good at hurling as they were at football, they were going to make the grade.”
Walsh himself learned a good deal from his time with the Déise footballers: “I drew a lot out of it. It gave me an insight into the work that was involved, and into the attitude of players, what needed to be done, and the fact you needed to bring 30 fellas along with you.
“There isn’t much point in bringing 14 fellas along with you, or 21. It was either 30 or nothing. You learned those things, and they stood to me after.”
A Waterford perspective? Michael Ryan of Fourmilewater, himself an experienced senior hurling selector with the county and manager of Waterford’s ladies football team, identifies Walsh’s appointment as a watershed for football in the county.
“It was the first major appointment of a high-profile outside man as Waterford football manager,” said Ryan. “It was a major coup at the time and he did his fair share to bring Waterford football on.
“Everyone liked him and respected him because he was a decent, quiet, hard-working, honest guy. He was also a deep thinker about the game, and a very shrewd man.
“He didn’t shout or scream with the players. He didn’t have to. He was still very good to get his message across to them, and they responded.”
Ryan says Walsh’s record as a player meant he had the immediate respect of the players.
“Everyone appreciated the success he’d had – to play for Cork in football and hurling, and to play in All-Ireland finals in both codes, everyone had huge respect for what he’d accomplished.
“He definitely raised standards, and it made people outside the county – and inside, maybe – realise that Waterford were serious about football. He was a very good man-manager – any of the players would tell you that.”
The man from Fourmilewater says while Walsh’s appointment caught him on the hop, the Corkman’s performance hasn’t. “I was surprised when he took over as Cork hurling manager. Not because he wouldn’t be able for it, but just because it was a name I’d never really considered myself, and I think it came out of the blue for a lot of people. I might have been surprised he was appointed, but going on what I know of him, it’s no surprise to me that he’s been successful at it. “He’s a top class manager.”
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