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Walsh draws no comfort from Dubs close call


Kerry’s Tommy Walsh at the launch of the Lidl Comórtas Peile Páidi Ó Sé 2020

Kerry’s Tommy Walsh at the launch of the Lidl Comórtas Peile Páidi Ó Sé 2020

Paddy White

Kerry’s Tommy Walsh at the launch of the Lidl Comórtas Peile Páidi Ó Sé 2020

Tommy Walsh fills the door frame as he enters the meeting room in the Croke Park hotel.

He's 31 and it's now more than a decade since he won his only All-Ireland medal. Back then he was one half of Kerry's twin towers before he was exported to the AFL. Down under there was a career-threatening injury before he returned to Kerry. Even then, there was a plot twist. His second coming was a bust.

Looking back now, he felt Kerry was gone for him. On his return from the AFL, he gave it a season and a half under Éamonn Fitzmaurice before walking away after the league of 2016. The following year, the hamstring that had dogged him in Australia was playing up. He played little or no club football for about a year. Lining out with Kerry again seemed fanciful.

"I suppose at the end of that year I was kind of starting to doubt it," he said at the launch of the Lidl Comórtas Peile Páidí Ó Sé, which takes place from February 21-23.

"I just wanted to get to a level where I could contribute for my club again because I obviously grew up playing there and had a lot of friends there.

"I worked hard that winter and was able to get back playing with my club, I don't think I missed a game during 2018. And then, I suppose there was shock really at the end of the year when Peter (Keane) rang me to come back in."

After Keane's call, he took a couple of weeks to mull it over. His last involvement didn't go so well and, for better and worse, sport had consumed his 20s. He had got used to having his time as his own.

"I was happy. I was living my life. I have a lot of other interests besides football and I was doing different things.

"But when that opportunity came up I think it would have been something, looking back, where I would have said 'why didn't I go in and just give it another shot and see what comes of it'. And, look, there was less pressure, obviously."

Walsh is ready to go for Kerry's league opener against Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday night. Last year's All-Ireland finals were breathless and at times surreal. There was the image of him preparing to lift David Moran had Dean Rock found the target with his late free in the drawn game and Cluxton tracking him as Dublin pushed on in that game.

However, any assumption that the experience of putting it up to the Dubs - will help close the gap, is dismissed out of hand.

"You just have to improve. Last year was a huge learning curve for a lot of guys. They have to take that on board - we all do, even the older guys like myself have to take stuff on board from last year and try and do things a bit better. Because while we were very close, we still fell short.

"There's a big difference between drawing with Dublin and beating them. Dublin aren't the only team, there's a lot of teams on that level below Dublin with us that are trying to get there, too."