What a redemption story for Tommy Walsh.
Ten years ago the big Kerins O’Rahilly’s man was the most feared full-forward in Gaelic football such was the destructive nature with which he powered Kerry to an All-Ireland title. He soon left these shores to pursue pastures new in Australia where he attempted to carve out a career for himself in the AFL. However, it didn’t work out for Walsh for a number of reasons and he soon returned to the Kingdom.
A run of injuries and poor form curtailed his return to the Kerry set-up before he dropped off the panel. We thought we had seen the last of Tommy Walsh on the big stage at that point but he returned in 2019 for one last comeback under Peter Keane. The league went well for Walsh as the experimental mark suited his bustling style of play but come championship time he was seldom seen.
He was introduced bang on 50 minutes during Sunday’s encounter with Tyrone to devastating effect as seven minutes later Kerry found themselves in a winning position.
Following the match, Mickey Harte admitted that Walsh’s presence helped turn the tide in Kerry’s favour.
“He was for sure, he’s a big player and he’s a lot of experience and he has a physicality about him and he’s a target man. He’s lots of those things which took a bit of the weight off David Clifford’s shoulders in terms of being the out ball man.”
He wasn’t on his own though. In those final 20 minutes, all of Kerry’s leaders stood up. Moran, Clifford and Geaney all kicked scores but the real driving force was Stephen O’Brien who yet again put his shoulder to the wheel and drove Kerry on when they needed him most.
Walsh and O’Brien were pivotal to Kerry’s play in what turned out to be the most pivotal phase of the game when the pendulum swung in their favour.
Shortly after Walsh’s introduction, Tyrone extended their lead to 0-12 to 0-10 through Connor McAliskey. From the resulting restart, Kerry worked the ball up-field. Their forwards zipped about looking to create the killer opening but up until that point Tyrone had marshalled their talented attack extremely well.
Killian Spillane eventually worked it to Sean O’Shea who spotted the space for Walsh to attack. He gathered and instinctively offloaded to the onrushing David Moran who made his run as soon as the ball left O’Shea’s boot. Moran steadied himself and scored to reduce the gap to just a point.
Moments later Kerry mounted another counter-attack. They won a free around the 45-metre line but instead of taking a shot at goal, Tom O’Sullivan played a quick pass into Walsh who had got out in front of Padraig Hampsey for the third time in a row.
Walsh looked to turn on to his right foot but quickly realised it was a low percentage shot for himself, he turned back to feed David Clifford who fired between the posts to level the game at 0-12 to 0-12.
Less than a minute later Kerry struck the killer blow and it was counter-attacking football in its purest form. O’Brien was back in his own defence to mop up a loose ball and immediately start a Kerry attack.
O’Brien gave it to Moran who passed to Jack Sherwood, who had a fine game after being introduced. Sherwood found Paul Geaney out on the right-wing but the Dingle man looked surrounded and likely to get bottled up.
All the while, O’Brien kept his run going and arrived into the box as Tommy Walsh pulled out of the middle, dragging Hampsey with him. It created the opening that Geaney needed to slip O’Brien who duly finished to the net. All of a sudden Kerry led for the first time since the 15th minute.
Here is that goal in full.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 11, 2019
Kerry’s tails were up and they turned Tyrone over almost immediately and mounted another attack. As they moved the ball forward O’Brien found himself all alone near the left-hand touchline. When he eventually received the ball he steadied himself and kicked the point to complete the Kerry turnaround and put them into a lead that Tyrone were never able to make up.
From two points down to four points up in a matter of minutes. Tommy Walsh’s introduction caused havoc for the Tyrone defence and helped men like O’Brien step up and grab a hold of the game when Kerry needed it most.
The only question that remains is what role Tommy Walsh will play in the final?