By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Irish soccer legend, Paul McGrath was renowned for his ability to play at the highest level for the latter half of his storied career, despite not being able to participate in any form of rigorous training, due to the decrepit condition of both his knees.
Grace Walsh isn’t anywhere near that state and having had an arthroscopy at the beginning of the month, hopes to be in mint shape once more, sooner rather than later.
However, the 22-year-old Tullaroan player has certainly been in management mode with regard to her knee and if she makes an appearance against Cahir in Sunday’s AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Club Semi-Final at Freshford, it will be with no serious preparation. The Toughest, indeed.
Walsh has endured a testing 12 months, ever since feeling discomfort in her knee after last year’s Ashbourne Cup. She resolved to withdraw from the Kilkenny squad, having joined at the invitation of Ann Downey as a 16-year-old. (Incidentally, with Downey back in the fold and her injury cleared up, she hopes to return once club commitments are completed).
She had to cut out camogie completely and there was only one way of ensuring such a competitor could manage that without being bedbound.
“It’s tough to watch, I must say” says Walsh. “I’m not really agreeing with injuries now. I’m not one to stand on the sideline and watch. I don’t enjoy that.
“I went away for the summer, just to get rid of the temptation of playing. If I stayed around I would have played and that probably would have made it worse.”
Still, she brought two hurleys with her to Cape Cod. This, after all, is the granddaughter of Paddy Grace, the sister of Tommy and Pádraig Walsh. The sport is in her marrow.
Rest wasn’t really producing the desired results though. Physiotherapy from Ciara Everard at DBC helped as she played in the county final and replay, came on as a sub in the Leinster Semi-Final and started once more in the provincial decider. All without any proper training.
800m runner Everard is concentrating all her energy on qualifying for the Olympics now though but fortunately, Walsh was taken on by UCD’s director of sports medicine, physiotherapy and rehabilitation, Liam Heavin.
“I hope I get better. I’d an arthroscopy done. It’s to do with my patellar cartilage so I just have rehab to do. I’m resting at the moment. I don’t know about Sunday if I’ll be playing or not. The next week will tell a lot.”
Throw into the mix that she is in her final year as a nursing student too, having just begun an internship at St Vincent’s, and it could be a stressful time. It’s a challenge but Walsh loves nursing, convinced she has found her calling. And having clubmate and car owner, Lorraine Maher teaching up the road means she gets home fairly often.
“It’s handy out ‘cos we go down for training and come back up then that night. We’ve right craic listening to Justin Bieber” she laughs.
Not lining out in the black and amber hurt the proud Noresider but there are no apologies for being Tullaroan first and foremost.
“Club is absolutely everything. It’s where you started your camogie, it’s playing with all the people you grew up with. There’s nothing better than your club.
“It has actually been unbelievable at home, especially as the lads got knocked out early in the intermediate hurling and it was all about us then. I think we did the parish proud by winning the county final anyway. To go on and win Leinster was huge.
“They had a bit of a homecoming for us after the county final and the Leinster Final. They drove a tractor and had us all down the back on a trailer down the village. It looked like there were hundreds of people, ‘cos the whole of Tullaroan was out to support us.
“The buzz is great. I’ve been up and down a bit anytime I’ve two days off in a row. They’d a race night for a bit of a fundraiser and that all adds to it. The support has been very good, I must say.”
She knows little about Cahir, although Sinéad Kennedy and Lorna McEniry (“a tough cookie”) are UCD players too. They aren’t giving away much but Walsh knows they will present a stiff challenge, having emerged from Munster.
If Tullaroan could win their next two games though, she could hardly imagine anything better.
“It would be incredible. I think I’d take a club All-Ireland medal over any other medal. It would be great and such a good buzz for the parish. The buzz after the county final was great, the buzz after the Leinster Final was great. I just can’t even imagine what it would be like after an All-Ireland Final. I’d say the place would be wrecked! A week’s annual leave would be in store I think!”
Bonus territory, but with desire and commitment of this nature, anything is possible.