He’s a former Young Footballer of the Year but Aidan Walsh’s inter-county football days look to be over after his decision to switch to hurling, again. DENIS HURLEY got the thoughts of Walsh’s former team-mate Fintan Goold
OPENER for ten – name either of the last two Cork winners of a football All-Star award?
Sadly, it’s not as if you have to wrack your brains for multiple recipients over recent years, the challenge lies in working out how many years to travel back.
You have to go to 2012 for the answer – the recently retired Colm O’Neill was honoured and so was Aidan Walsh. It was the Kanturk man’s second award in three years and, while Cork were left frustrated after losing an All-Ireland semi-final to Donegal, there was still a good deal of hope for the future.
In the time since, Cork have only reached two quarter-finals – the following two campaigns – and Walsh has twice switched from football to hurling. For 2014, he attempted to combine the two codes before focusing on hurling in 2015 and 2016.
When the hurlers exited that championship, he was invited to re-join the football panel for the All-Ireland SFC qualifier with Donegal and reverted back to the big ball for 2017 and 2018. Now, he has again swapped camps and scored a goal for John Meyler’s hurling side against Waterford in last week’s CoOpSuperStores.ie Munster HL game.
In a perfect world, Cork football fans would envisage Walsh – and Ciarán Sheehan – as the mainstays of a team which was still at the top tier, but things don’t always work out as they might.
A former football team-mate of Walsh’s, Fintan, Goold, believes that there were a number of factors in the changing of the plates.
‘In 2014, Aidan and Damien Cahalane and Eoin Cadogan gave dual a go, it was the first time in a while that it had been done,’ he says.
‘It was difficult to balance both and at the end of that year, Brian Cuthbert would have acknowledged that a decision had to be made.
‘The hurlers won Munster that year and it wasn’t so good for the footballers, but I wouldn’t say that it was the be-all and the end-all for Aidan choosing hurling.
‘I think most people’s reservations with playing dual would have been on the physical side but it wasn’t so much that as you’d have the heavy running done in the winter, it’s more the missing of training sessions.
‘Football was becoming a lot more tactical, you’d be doing 20 minutes on kickout structures, a half-hour on sidelines, and it’s tough if you’re missing two or three weeks and trying to come back into it.
‘When Aidan chose hurling, I would have thought that it was the end of his Cork football career and I felt it was a real shame, as a Cork football man it was a huge disappointment as he had won All-Irelands at U21 and senior and won young footballer of the year and two All-stars. You’d have been looking to him as the focal point for the next few years.
‘As things transpired, we came very close to winning Munster in 2015 and the hurlers had a bad year, but Aidan was still missed from the football. I suppose in the few years after that, there were a lot of managerial changes, which didn’t help in terms of stabilising things. For a long while before that, Conor Counihan had been there and he was always clear in terms of what he felt was doable.’
Walsh, and Eoin Cadogan, were late additions to the football panel in 2016 and that proved to be the catalyst for a longer-term return. However, the Cork set-up that Walsh returned to was one in transition and 2017 and 2018 were spent in Division 2 with qualifier exits following heavy Munster final defeats.
‘He was seen as a bit of a scapegoat, in ways,’ Goold says.
‘It’s an easy target, you’re a beacon for criticism if you leave and come back. Cork had lost a lot of leadership in a short space of time and people were maybe looking for him to fill that vacuum but it can’t be done by one person.
‘I did think, on a personal level, the way he came back late in 2016 wasn’t ideal. Obviously, he was contacted rather than canvassing for it, I wouldn’t blame him for that as he did what most would have done as strong Corkmen.
‘You would be looking at the competition for places and things like that though and the dynamic created by all the to-ing and fro-ing couldn’t go on indefinitely.’
That Walsh comes from Kanturk, who have a presence on the hurling panel, is a factor in his latest decision, Goold feels.
‘He comes from a club that’s very strong in hurling, they’re playing senior and won an intermediate All-Ireland,’ he says.
‘Anthony Nash and Lorcán McLoughlin, until the end of last year, were involved so that could have a bearing. If he was from Macroom or somewhere with no real hurling tradition then things might have been different.
‘I think, at this stage, he won’t play football again for Cork and that’s disappointing as a Cork fan.
‘Cork football is at a low ebb at the moment, not flush with experience or nationwide top talent. You’re building from a low base and you’d have liked to have seen Aidan be a part of that.
‘I was at the Tipperary game last year and Ian Maguire and Aidan dominated two good midfielders in Liam Casey and Jack Kennedy. Coming out of that game, you were thinking that they could build on that but the year went sour for Cork fairly quickly, I never thought it would transpire the way it did, and he didn’t get a run against Tyrone then.
‘I don’t know what happened, but the decision is made, it’s unfortunate for Cork football but it’s important to just move on now.’