After years of heartbreak and hurt, Tullaroan silence demons with special triumph
Tullaroan had been in this position before.
You'd struggle to count on one hand the number of times Tullaroan had been in this position before. Up by four points at half-time of the Kilkenny intermediate final against Thomastown, they should have been up by more.
If this was another team, you'd say they were sure things to kick on and win by more. Faster forwards, meaner in defence. The Sash were doing all the hurling out there.
But this is Tullaroan. Tullaroan with years of recent heartbreak behind them in this grade, Tullaroan with near misses on their minds and coughed up leads in their heads.
You worried they'd rue all the missed chances as this game ticked towards a close.
Thomastown were in on that one too. Only a couple of weeks ago, Tullaroan were beating them by two points with four minutes overtime played in the League final. A late goal arrived. Another sting for a long-suffering Tullaroan team.
They didn't want Deja Vu here.
The second half took off and the blue and whites piled on the pressure. This wasn't the Thomastown we'd seen in the opening half hour. John Donnelly was swinging them over from all angles and their subs were turning the tide.
From four points the lead reduced to one. 'Same old Tullaroan again?' You'd wonder what was going through the players' minds.
Let's rewind to this time 2018 for a second. The same stage, county final day again and the most successful club in Kilkenny were poised to return to the senior ranks. Nine points up with less than a half of hurling remaining, Tulla was inscribed on the cup.
But somehow, Graigue Ballycallan came back. They won by two, they went up senior and did well there this year. Tommy Walsh cut a forlorn, disconsolate figure that day.
1.38 to 1.42 in the below video from TG4 captures the hurt.
An emotional @NedzerB13 speaks to #GAABEO after his Graigue - Ballycallan side came back from behind to beat Tullaroan in the Kilkenny Intermediate Hurling Final. #GAA #GAABEO #TG4 @ballsdotie @The42_ie @SportsJOEdotie pic.twitter.com/UmeqQNF8vk
— GAA BEO TG4 (@GAA_BEO) October 30, 2018
In 2017, it was similar again when St Pat's Ballyragget came from behind to knock them out at the semi-final stage. In 2016, Carrickshock were fortunate to see Padraig Walsh sent off before they went onto win Kilkenny, and the All-Ireland.
Tullaroan looked and listened. They knew pain like nobody else.
So with the lead whittling and the game on, they said never again. Not today. They summoned something from deep inside them to turn the pain to fortitude. To turn the never-ending heartache to an unbreakable spirit.
Peter Walsh - the diminutive corner forward who can't be far off a Kilkenny call-up - followed his two stunning first half goals with three equally skilful and pivotal points. Padraig continued to pluck balls from the sky while Tommy rolled back the years at full forward.
It's still a sight for sore eyes to see this man hurl. Still dancing on the toes under the red crown, still cajoling his teammates on at every chance. Youngest brother Shane - one of the seven Walsh's on the team - played a captain's role with some nerveless frees while others like Mossy Keoghan and John Walton stormed towards the finish line.
Tullaroan kicked on and they banished years of hurt.
His brother Padraig in tears alongside him, Tommy Walsh soaks in a first ever adult medal for @Tullaroanhurlin while youngest brother and captain Shane gives a rousing speech.
What it's all about, what a selection of photos and what a day for Tullaroan.@Sportsfileray 📸 pic.twitter.com/yQ1jDlpKHr
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) October 27, 2019
For Tommy Walsh, who embraced his father Michael after his first big adult success for his club at 36 - this was special. He's climbed the steps of the Hogan stand, he's won All-Stars and individual awards, but he wanted nothing more than to share something with the Tullaroan people.
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) October 28, 2019
By God they shared something special on Sunday.