Walsh starts all over again on the hurling front

Walsh starts all over again on the hurling front

Aidan Walsh was dejected following loss to Clare in the the Co-Op Superstores Munster Hurling League tie at Cusack Park. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

WE GO again.

At the time of the year most Cork GAA fans spend scouring the naming of teams for sign of great new things to pin some hope onto, it was striking to see Aidan Walsh’s name back in among the hurlers again this week, putting himself out there among the other fellas eager to set down markers to be involved in another potentially thrilling season of hurling.

Walsh will be 29 this month and remains a thrillingly athletic force around a field when at peak levels, capable of fetching ball and running hard and impacting certain types of games and it appeared entirely logical that John Meyler would consider him a real option when big squads are so valuable now given the increased volume of games. Yet in keeping with the general sense of nobody being sure of what it all means for either side, the reaction has been mixed to Walsh moving on again from the footballers to the hurlers.

In 2014 the move to hurling seemed to spark a lot of doubt in the Cork football project to be losing a player of such value; now there’s been a feeling that this was coming, that perhaps Ronan McCarthy’s new ideas didn’t include Walsh’s skillset, that Walsh had given all he could to Cork footballers and that the hurling was a more interesting challenge at this stage of his career anyway.

There’s something curious in the perception of Walsh around here still, where we’ve all been guilty at times of looking for the things he can’t do rather than the things he can. A two-time All-Star in football in his first four seasons (where he routinely influenced big games with big plays) wasn’t quite considered enough as there remained this feeling that we always wanted and expected more, that these performances and plays were just hints of the potential and that Walsh could dominate Gaelic football for years if he could just unlock more consistency and better decision making at times.

Duhallow's Aidan Walsh and Castlehaven's Darragh Cahalane tussle. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Duhallow's Aidan Walsh and Castlehaven's Darragh Cahalane tussle. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

It’s possible to see arguments on both sides here.

There’s something about a graceful footballer like Walsh who was capable of moments where he seemed to be playing a different game to everybody else where you expect this to happen every time he gets the ball rather than the reality. It’s there also for example in the ongoing talk about a soccer player like Paul Pogba, the clash between enjoying the skilful abilities of a player who’s contributed to winning Serie A titles and World Cups and the idea that he ought to be dominating every single game he plays.

Walsh took shots from distance and sometimes they worked (a three-point match-winning display v Tipp) and sometimes they didn’t (one game in Killarney especially) and he strolled past other midfielders at times with such ease and speed that he looked like an adult thrown into the middle of a minor game.

And still, it’s possible to imagine what might have happened if Walsh had been given a proper cohesive run of years under a certain coaching structure and to look at someone like Brian Fenton in Dublin who came into a settled system of playing and was allowed freedom to go and learn as a modern midfielder.

Even in the county final a few months back Walsh had a monster of a game in parts, set up both goals for Duhallow with a long kick-pass and a storming gallop, and still I remember hearing references after the game to some error he made or questions about his overall influence — again that battle between what he did and what people expected him to do.

This last couple of years with Cork never quite took off – he was a controlled presence v Tipp in the summer but Walsh probably needs to be going at it full speed with his touch right in to be at his most effective and that just rarely looked like happening in 2017 or 2018.

The dual thing hasn’t gone away either and again it’s possible to be impressed at an ability to combine both games so well that both Cork footballers and Cork hurlers have repeatedly chased his availability and also wonder at the lost time trying to perform for everybody compared to peers in other counties. We’ve made this argument before.

While Walsh was chasing club glory with Kanturk hurlers last winter say, think of the extra football contact work that a Kerry midfielder was getting in the basic skills and positional coaching in the game. Can Walsh make up the difference from a year out of inter-county hurling and the training and games someone from Tipp or Clare or Limerick were getting through 2018 while he was on the Cork football panel?

And still there’s something deeply impressive about the willingness and sheer dedication necessary to keep going. Walsh is one of the last batch of Cork players who won both a Munster minor football and hurling medal – he won football in 2007 and hurling in 2008 (Ciarán Sheehan was another).

Of the 15 who started the Munster minor football final in 2007, Walsh was the only one playing senior for Cork last summer. Of the team who started the minor hurling final in 2008, Walsh is the only one still playing inter-county for Cork.

There’s an awful lot of things that can cause a talent fall off in more than ten years between form and injuries and burnout and plain interest – over Christmas we read about Daniel Flynn’s decision to step away from Kildare football for example - so this kind of longevity can hardly be dismissed. There’s potential for more to come too. It might just be that the format of more games to build form and touch and a more open style of hurling might allow Walsh make an impact again here for John Meyler.

Cork have a need for ball-winning, we’ve seen the stats that had them right down the bottom of the possessions won from contested balls last summer, and Walsh provides that kind of natural ability. Cork and Aidan Walsh go searching for their roles again.

Clare's Aidan McCarthy with Aidan Walsh of Cork. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Grealy
Clare's Aidan McCarthy with Aidan Walsh of Cork. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Grealy

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