Aidan Walsh feels he’s ready for Croke Park again
CAN it really be six years since the 2008 All-Ireland Minor Final? If Mayo had managed to retain possession in the final minute of injury time against Tyrone, Castlebar’s Aidan Walsh would have been the hero.
It was 25 seconds into added time when Walsh kicked a wonderful free from 40 metres out, 15 metres in from the Cusack Stand. It flew over the crossbar at the Canal End.
It was a score good enough to win any All-Ireland but, right on 62 minutes, Tyrone’s Matthew Donnelly kicked the equaliser.
Mayo lost the replay.
Walsh returned the following year as captain only to encounter heartbreak again, Mayo losing the final to Armagh by three points.
He hasn’t disappeared since then but the question of ‘what happened to him?’ has been posed many times by Mayo fans who don’t follow the club scene.
Anyone who watched Castlebar’s recent win over Dr Crokes will have seen just how well he is moving these days and Walsh, who just turned 23 last month, admits he’s in good shape.
“I’m definitely fitter and stronger this year than I have been before,” he told The Mayo News. Interestingly he puts a lot of that down to not being involved with any county team in 2013. In the previous five years he was in with Mayo at Minor (two seasons) and U-21 (three) and moving from county to club, with different peak points in the season, disrupted his momentum.
Plus, he decided against going to America in the summer of 2013, unlike the previous two years, and it was certainly a more structured season for him.
“This is the first year that I’ve had a proper pre-season with the club. When you get the full whack of pre-season you know the pain and realise the hard runs in January that you’ve missed before. You’re in a lot better physical shape.
“There’s confidence from knowing you’ve the work done that you can go, say, for the first half at 100 miles an hour because I know I’ve more in the tank, you’re not holding it.”
And that was, he says, especially apparent in the Crokes game after he had made the most of the Christmas break to shake off a couple of niggling injuries which had plagued him from late summer onwards.
Walsh admits he hates using the phrase ‘game one’ and ‘game two’ and so on, which has been the instinctive response of many Mitchels players and management this season when explaining how it is only one game at a time. Whatever about the phraseology though, it’s clear it’s not just an exercise in optics by the group.
“We set out our aim at the start of the year to win the county title, but then we parked that and focussed on each individual game after that and we refocused after every game then.”
The pre-season target was the county title. Many felt that would be the limit of their ambitions. Such thoughts have been flung to one side.
“There was a feeling of ‘job done’ after the game and the day after. We didn’t just go into the dressing room, put the cup to one side, and say ‘we’re looking to Corofin now’.
“It was the first training session after the county final, the next Wednesday evening. We just had a meeting where we asked, ‘are we going to be happy enough to win the county title?’ We said that we would push on.”
And how about the form they’ve found since — are Mitchels a team liberated by finally ending their 20 year barren spell without the Moclair Cup?
“I don’t really buy into the monkey off our back kinda stuff. It’s not that teams in Mayo are trying to shut you down or anything but other teams outside of Mayo are a step-up because it is a higher competition, and they’re trying to implement their brand of football. There’s a bit more freedom to get our system into the game, and we’ve managed to do that.
“We are confident enough that if we can get ourselves right … Look, if we play to our potential and a team beats us, we’ll say well done, fair play, best of luck to ye. Our confidence is high because everyone is confident in themselves.”