Tommy Walsh's time on Leeside with UCC was crucial to pushing on with Kilkenny

Tommy Walsh's time on Leeside with UCC was crucial to pushing on with Kilkenny
Tommy Walsh battling The Rock of Cloyne. Picture Des Barry 

HE might be one of Kilkenny’s greatest ever hurlers, but Tommy Walsh has a grá for Cork.

You wouldn’t have noticed it when he was going toe-to-toe with Niall McCarthy, Ben O’Connor and co in the noughties of course. Which was fair enough.

However, Walsh had four great years in UCC, studying Arts, first, and then Health Economics, hurling up a storm in the Fitzgibbon Cup and the Cork SHC, and even popping into Lennox’s chipper to load up on carbs.

Though a highly-rated youngster when he headed to the College in 2001, having been part of a Kilkenny minor team defeated by Cork with John Gardiner, Kieran ‘Fraggie’ Murphy and Setanta Ó hAilpín to the fore, he matured under the tutelage of John Grainger, Dr Paddy Crowley and the late Paul O’Connor.

“You’re going into an inter-county type set-up straight away,” recalled Walsh at the Murphy’s GAA panel night in Páirc Uí Chaoimh this week.

“As a young player, you benefit when people have belief in you and put time into you. I was fierce lucky because we’d Paddy Crowley, John Grainger and Paulo from Na Piarsaigh, and they really looked after us.

“I couldn’t say enough about John Grainger and Paulo and Paddy Crowley. I still follow UCC and go to their matches when I can. Hurling is what drives them and when you’ve a common ground you’re always going to have a special connection.

“When I was in third year, Paddy Crowley brought me out to his house for a family dinner.

Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Mick Finn with Dr Paddy Crowley, John Grainger and Dr Con Murphy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Mick Finn with Dr Paddy Crowley, John Grainger and Dr Con Murphy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“It was unbelievable really. It wasn’t just management it was the players as well. John Browne was a star at the time, he’d won an All-Ireland in 1999 with Cork and when we came in as first years he was making sure everything was alright for you.”

Walsh taking on Douglas' Eoin Cadogan.
Walsh taking on Douglas' Eoin Cadogan.

Understandably Walsh had already been flagged up as a potential senior hurler by Brian Cody, but excelling in the Fitz as a first-year backed that up.

“Noel Skeehan, the former Kilkenny goalkeeper, was a selector at the time and he used to go to all the Fitzgibbon matches. A few performances in that was how I got onto the Kilkenny panel.

“It was massive in my career because I was playing against top guys and the training in UCC was a huge step up from what I’d been used to.

“With the two and a half hours it took to drive up to Kilkenny back then, Brian Cody didn’t want us travelling up, same with the club. It wasn’t a choice you had to look after yourself down here.”

He also fell in a few times with the Barrs.

“As well as UCC in my first year I was in digs by The Lough so I used to train a bit with St Finbarr’s. They’d an indoor alley and I was in messing around there.

“You were at no disadvantage training with UCC in January because it was 15 on 15 and with any amount of inter-county lads, all in the same boat. You developed a huge bond.

“We’d a fierce rivalry with Cork after, but getting the bus out to the Farm to train and so on really built the spirit. It was a great time.”

Unfortunately, they didn’t land the big prizes, losing in a Fitzgibbon Cup final to WIT and in another two semi-finals.

“They were the hard-luck stories, but I’ve no regrets. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else. We’d a county semi-final against Cloyne in 2004, I remember that well.”

The College weren’t short on wristy stick men at the time.

“We’d Tom Kenny — we used to call him Perfect Tom — he was a real elite athlete. I saw him doing a 100-metre sprint in his shoes because he forgot his runners and he still beat everyone else. He was a natural plus he put the time into it.

“Rory O’Doherty (Ballincollig) was a fine hurler, very fast as well, Mark O’Connor from Erin’s Own was a serious player and Shane O’Neill was there towards the end. Mark O’Leary from Tipperary was there and a good few Kilkenny fellas after, like John Tennyson and Michael Rice.”

In the Laochra Gael series on TG4, Walsh revealed his passion for Christy Ring, having read everything he could on the iconic Rebel when he was growing up in Tullaroan.

“You can’t love your rivals. They have to be beat.

Our biggest rivalry was with Cork in the 2000s. I’m a hurling man at the end of the day and I had such a great time in Cork.

“You look at the current Cork team and you couldn’t but admire them, they hurl the right way.”

Which is something he’s currently passing on to his young son and daughter, while his brother Pádraig remains a key figure for Kilkenny and his sister Grace on the camogie front.

“Hurling is just special. You never lose your passion for hurling, even it’s very different when you’re caught up in the whole inter-county scene.”

Something UCC provided the springboard for.

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