Kieran Walsh is still on the run for Kilworth: 26 seasons and counting

Veteran hurling goalkeeper talks to Éamonn Murphy about the evolution of the game, lighter sliotars, puck-outs, and fundraising for Penny Dinners 
Kieran Walsh is still on the run for Kilworth: 26 seasons and counting

Kilworth goalkeeper Kieran Walsh clears against Valley Rovers. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

KIERAN Walsh is heading towards his 26th championship campaign with the Kilworth hurlers. 

He was called up to the panel in '96, made his debut two years later and, after missing out a couple of campaigns following a leg break, has been between the posts since 2001. If he wears the number one geansái for four outings this summer he'll hit the 100 championship matches for the club, not including his 11 years with Avondhu.

Now 43, clearly his grá for iomáint hasn't waned one bit. Fitness certainly won't be an issue this summer for Walsh, who recently completed a lockdown marathon where he raised a remarkable €3,226 for Penny Dinners.

When we meet under the blazing sun in Clancy's Rooftop Bar to reflect on a fascinating journey as a hurling goalie, he's after a sub-20-minute 5k that morning.

Kilworth hurler Kieran Walsh, with his daughters, presents the money raised by his run to Caitriona Twomey, Penny Dinners.
Kilworth hurler Kieran Walsh, with his daughters, presents the money raised by his run to Caitriona Twomey, Penny Dinners.

"I respect anyone who gets out for any bit of a run. I've been there. I know hard it is to get started and it's much easier to be chasing a ball. I really got into it over the last few years and especially with lockdown it kept me ticking away."

Given his longevity, he's hurled with a series of father and son pairings, Seán and Eoin Carey, John and Seán Keane, Tommy and Jamie Sheehan, John and Brian Sheehan, and more. An obvious highlight was captaining Kilworth to a junior county, with just Walsh, Mossy McNamara, Brian Tobin and Mark O'Connor still on board from 2006.

Back on the training field in recent weeks, he could be warming up alongside a veteran like McNamara or a minor graduate such as Luke Carey. Bringing his daughters to training, ladies football with Mayfield and camogie for Brian Dillons, also keeps him young.

Aside from the two years when Brian Carey, an uncle of Luke and Eoin Carey, was in goal due to Walsh's injury, the spot has effectively been occupied by two men in 43 years. 

"John Joe Shanahan, passed away three years ago. He was a legend of a man. He had a similar start to me. He started in 1978 but got sent off in a football match, against Newtown of all things, and ended up suspended for the first round of the hurling the following year and lost out on two seasons before getting back in. 

It's funny how similar it was for us."

Like every other GAA team in Cork, the emergence from restrictions has a whole parish buzzing again. Kilworth have a promising U15 underage team, amalgamated with Araglen as Kilara Óg, with former senior star Will O'Donoghue coaching. 

Ex-Waterford hurler Seán 'Growler' Daly has come in to work with the adult team. They're still smarting from Senior A relegation in 2020, particularly when they were beaten twice by a point, at the hands of Ballymartle and Killeagh, and two against Bride Rovers.

"We need some young talent to come through but patience really is the key with it. I was a late developer myself. When I was in St Colman's I couldn't make the Harty Cup team and I was actually dropped off the panel in '96 when we got to an All-Ireland final."

Kieran Walsh, in a St Colman's jersey, in goal for Kilworth against Watergrasshill, wearing Sars gear. Picture: Larry Cummins
Kieran Walsh, in a St Colman's jersey, in goal for Kilworth against Watergrasshill, wearing Sars gear. Picture: Larry Cummins

There was certainly no bitterness with Colman's coach Denis Ring over that decision, as they now work together in Blackwater College in Waterford, where Pa Cronin is a teacher as well. The school lifted a Dean Ryan Cup and if Harty success didn't follow, Déise seniors Jack Prendergast, Colm Roche, Jamie Barron, Mikey Kearney and the Bennetts, all hurled there.

EVOLUTION

Now in his fourth decade as a senior hurler, Walsh has seen radical changes to the game. Lately, there has been criticism of the weight of the sliotar and the ease with which points are picked off outfield. He believes it's sport's natural evolution while acknowledging the club game isn't as impacted as inter-county.

"On a pitch 20 years ago, if a sliotar fell on a heavy pitch, especially in winter, it was naturally wetter and the type of sliotars soaked up more water. Now you're playing with fresh sliotars over the course of the game. Before you'd have a bag and there could be anything in there. A Cummins, an All-Star...

"I don't think my puck is any longer and it's not about that anyway. Accuracy is far more important than launching it down as far as you can. I love the tactical side of hurling and that's kept me going as much as anything. It keeps the mind fresh."

Kilworth goalkeeper Kieran Walsh stops Grenagh's Shane Dorgan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Kilworth goalkeeper Kieran Walsh stops Grenagh's Shane Dorgan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

As for the next development?

"Because the middle is so congested, surely there's a strong case to have mobile, tall ball-winners inside that you can deliver it any way into."

Though Brendan Cummins, renowned for his brilliant saves was always an idol, Walsh's primary focus at training is striking and accuracy.

"Shot-stopping is the smaller percentage of goalkeeping now. It's a good hand, agility around the square and an accurate puck. You could get two shots to stop in a whole match and often you're throwing yourself, spreading yourself, hoping they might hit you. 

You'll hit 30-35 puck-outs in a game and they need to be precise, hitting fellas on the move."

And what about when they go astray?

"You'd be annoyed with yourself but the philosophy has to be the next ball. When we won the junior we'd John Carey, from Clare, doing the mind coaching and that became ingrained in us. I'd be a pretty calm fella. I try and contain any annoyance I have to myself, it distracts the team otherwise. Next ball that's what it's about."

As sensible as you'd expect from an elder statesman of Cork club hurling.

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