National League

Tommy Walsh - too good, too young and too passionate about Kerry football to finish his inter county career like this

May 3rd, 2016
by Weeshie Fogarty

I suppose it would be fair to say when the news broke last week that Tommy Walsh was opting out of the Kerry panel following that latest defeat to Dublin it was not a complete shock as the big Kerins o Rahillys man had slipped well down the rankings in the Kerry panel and while not getting a run in last years All Ireland final was bad enough being completely overlooked again in the league defeat to Dublin was literally the very last straw. It must have been very evident to him that the selectors did not have him high in their plans for the coming championship so he is in my opinion perfectly correct and has made the right decision to step away for the time being.

Now I have deliberately said, for the time being; because I see no reason why Tommy cannot regain much of the form he showed before he set sail for Australia following his wonderful year of 2009 in the green and gold. And what a magnificent summer he gave Kerry followers  back then as their heroes raced to a superb All Ireland victory defeating Cork in the final, 0-16 to 1-9. The Kingdom played eight games to win that title, Tommy played in all eight, scoring 3-12, second highest on the list behind Colm Cooper with 1-34.  He came on in the semi-final against Meath for Donnacha Walsh and scored 1-2 and in the final he lofted over four glorious points from the full forward position. He can with plenty games regain much of that brilliance I am fully convinced.

Whatever about Kerry, its supporters and mentors, winning or losing, the greatest disappointment of all here is for Tommy himself? It must have been a heart-breaking decision for him to opt out because playing football with Kerry and sport in general has always been his life. He like Tadhg Kennelly was raised in a home where the game was everything. His father Seanie one of the all-time great players, a pure stylist, and brilliant individual would have nurtured coached and guided his son to the very top and to see him give that wonderful exhibition in 2009 before he left for down under.  So stepping away from the Kerry panel was a massive decision.

So was he right to do so, I believe he was, now he goes back to his beloved Kerins o Rahillys, the pressure in many way is now off and he can and I have no doubt will improve further in leaps and bounds as the summer unfolds. He was a professional sportsman and will want to prove the doubters wrong and this will be a huge motivating factor also in his return to full fitness.  I can still see him as clear as day in the mind's eye fielding  superbly around the canal goal in Croke Park, holding out the ball with one hand, rounding his man and arching the ball between the posts. At his brilliant best he was a wonderful sight to behold, a massive man, built to match, fit as the proverbial fiddle and a beautiful mover. Light on his feet he was so deceptive and had this ability to simply sprint away from his man. That golden summer of 2009 will live long in the memory and the o Rahillys man we all felt was going to power Kerry for years to come.

Then came that offer from Australia and what young man could refuse such an opportunity, I met him at matches on a few occasion when he was home on holidays, courteous, quite spoken, always generous with his time, always the gentleman, it was evident the life as a professional suited him well. Then even leaner, fitter looking and honed to perfection his future seemed assured in Australia. Disaster however struck in June 2013 when he suffered a shocking injury when playing for Sydney Swans against Essendon, and it happened so simply. The 2008 Young Footballer of The Year needed surgery to attach his three hamstrings muscles which were torn completely form the bone as he stretched to collect a pass while all on his own. No other player was involved.

His return to the Kerry squad was greeted with huge expectations and of course hind sight is a wonderful thing but really intercounty football came much too soon following his comeback.  He fell between two stools, club and county, playing just thirteen minutes championship for Kerry last year. Sitting down on the bench was the worst possible thing that could have happened him. Missing club games, togging as a sub for Kerry, was never going to help him return to his best. And the game he left in 2009 has changed completely which added extra pressure on the Tralee man. Nowadays unlike back then he faced massed defence all times and the speed of the game has increased dramatically, speed is a vital element for all teams and that terrible injury seemed to have taken that little explosive bust from him, for the time being.

As we saw with Tadge Kennelly when he returned from Australia to play with Kerry it took him a full year before he was ready for the All Ireland final and indeed he had some very poor outings in the green and gold as he battled to return to the round ball. For Tommy it should have been a full competitive game with his club every week end, training and plenty of matches was essential, being a sub was exactly what he did not need.

Of course he was training full time with Kerry, how was he going here?, the lock out prevents us from passing judgment, but competitive games are a million miles away from a training game. So now he returns to his club full time where he will be welcomed back with open arms by his friends in that great family club. He is fortunate here because his manager, the person responsible for his fitness will be non-other than Michael Quirke a man who knows a bit about football and human nature.

Michael will, I am fully convinced improve Tommy and bring him to the level where before the summer is out be the man who Eamon Fitzmaurice will turn to as options are sought in relation to winning the All Ireland but more importantly beating the present tormentors of Kerry football, that great Dublin side.  However for me the greatest regret in all of this, that National League final defeat followed by Tommy's withdrawal is the hurt and disappointment to the man himself. He is too good, too young and to passionate about Kerry football to finish his inter county career like this.  Players have returned from far worse injuries and a few months training, playing loads of matches and relaxing with his lifelong friends in Strand Road will rejuvenate, revitalise  and hasten his return to the man we all admired on the field so much.

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