"I was trying to do too much" - Walsh on the difficulty going from AFL back to GAA
It doesn't feel all that long ago when, back in 2008 and '09, Tommy Walsh was the shooting star of Kerry football.
He was the Young Footballer of the Year in 2008 and he went one better the following year, when he kicked 0-4 from play against Cork - a brace off each foot - as he inspired Kerry to victory in the All-Ireland final. He was the David Clifford of his own generation.
It's well-documented that, much to the disappointment of those in the Kingdom, and after more than two years of interest and speculation, Walsh signed for AFL side St Kilda in 2009. Down Under he would remain until 2014 but some would say that, when he returned, it wasn't the same Tommy Walsh that had left them.
Much of that could be blamed on an injury hell that, after a progressive 2012 season, when he took Tadhg Kenneally's old jersey and kicked his first goal for the Sydney Swans, grabbed a hold of him in 2013. Walsh tore his hamstring off the bone and, try as he might, it was an injury that he was never able to fully shake off.
"As long as I'm playing a contact sport," he said in a 2020 GAA Hour interview, "I will have to keep working on it to make sure it doesn't come back again."
Walsh is retired from inter-county football now now, having hung up his boots after the 2021 season but he's still playing with his club Kerins O'Rahillys and is glad to report that the body is holding up well.
"I'm 34 years of age now so it's as good as it used to be obviously!
"I just have to manage it really. I think that was the biggest reason for me stepping away from the inter-county game because it's just so fast and the physical demands are so high now that I just felt that I wouldn't be at that level anymore. Which is unfortunate but it happens to everyone obviously. I just felt it was my time to move on. The club is obviously at a level down and I hope I can have a couple more years there, playing at a reasonably high standard.
"I've had a couple of niggles this year but hopefully I'm back on track now and I'll be able to finish out the season, injury-free."
Having re-joined the Kerry panel in 2015, the 6ft 6 in powerhouse didn't hit the heights he'd been hitting before and, as it turned out, it was just a year later when he dropped himself off the panel, citing a lack of game-time.
"I think we made a major mistake with Tommy as a management team in 2015 when he came back," former Kerry selector Mikey Sheehy said.
We probably should have let him go and play with his club for maybe six months, but we kind of threw him in at the deep end at the start of the league."
Walsh, meanwhile, says that, in those early comeback years, he put himself under too much pressure.
"For myself, I was probably putting a lot of pressure on myself.
"I was trying to do too much. I felt I should have been out there doing all the things that I was doing before I left, and doing them immediately. That was never going to be the case. So when I went back with my club, I started to enjoy it a bit more and I was a bit more relaxed. Obviously a bit of time had passed and things just became more natural - I got a bit of confidence then because I was playing better and it just flowed from one thing to the next.
"I suppose I had a lot more confidence in my body as well, because there was a stage when I was picking up a lot of injuries. It was a combination of things. Some guys just settle straight back into it, like they never left. It was just difficult for me unfortunately."
He did re-capture that spark of old in 2019 as, during the club championship, he put in some head-turning displays for 'the narries.' He was re-called into the Kerry panel by Peter Keane and, in Kerry's run to the All-Ireland final, payed an effective role as a substitute. His body was no longer able for the demands of inter-county football by 2021 though, and that was why he called it a day.
It was a disappointment for him that his last game and his last act was a miscued shot against Tyrone in that year's semi-final, though Walsh says that, as a top-level sports-man, you had to take the bad with the good.
"I would have been conscious of it at the time (that someone needed to step up and take a shot.) Generally, the referee even if you are up around the area, they might let you get a shot off at some stage. Look, obviously spilt second decision. I was moving across, I felt I was in a really good position. I was just off balance. My standing foot collapsed as I shot which didn’t help. You make those decisions and you have to live with them, unfortunately."
"In Hindsight it wasn’t the right option. I felt I had a yard. I think it was McNamee closed me down pretty well. Sometimes they go over. Sometimes they don’t. If I had my time again, I probably wouldn’t have shot. If it goes over it is great, if it doesn’t you are going to be criticised. That is sport. If you are playing at that level you have to accept that."
And this man was at that level for a long, long time.