Balancing camogie and nursing between Kilkenny and Dublin while chasing the All-Ireland dream

“I’M REALLY BAD at this,” Kilkenny star Grace Walsh warns the crowd of reporters huddled around her before the questions are asked. 

Grace Walsh.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

She’s up for interview at the launch of the 2019 All-Ireland championships, covered in bruises after the Cats’ recent Leinster final victory over Offaly. That’s the first topic of conversation and from there, Walsh eases into proceedings. 

With each word and every answer, she comes across more and more comfortable and assured. She’s not bad at this at all.

Camogie talk first.

The Cats’ bid for a fourth Division 1 league title in-a-row came crashing down after defeat to Galway in the showpiece in Croke Park, adding further woe to their back-to-back All-Ireland senior final defeats to Cork.

But the vibes in the camp are all positive at the minute, she assures.

It’s all about the 2019 All-Ireland championship, and gearing towards the O’Duffy Cup.

To appreciate the good buzz and optimistic atmosphere though, it’s important to look back on the darker days. The last two heartbreaking September defeats at HQ, Kilkenny remaining on the hollowed turf as Cork players climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift the silver after the most narrow and dramatic of victories.

However hard it was the first time, what must it have been like the second time? Was it harder?

“I don’t know,” the Tullaroan defender sighs.

“It’s equally as hard every time. You’re probably like ‘How did we not do it again this year?’ Going into last year’s All-Ireland final, I was fully convinced we were going to win that day.

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“Look it didn’t work out for us. There’s no point in looking back on it because we can’t change it. It’s all about 2019 so hopefully we’ll have our names on the cup this year.”

Chasing Amy O’Connor in last year’s final.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

At what stage do you park it? Probably never. 

“You use it to motivate you to a certain extent but you don’t over-use it,” Walsh — sister of Kilkenny great, Tommy — adds. It’s important not to dwell on Cork though. Galway, Limerick, Offaly; no matter who it is, you’re going out to win. 

It’s all about the next game, and going forward. There’s always a possibility of losing so every game is treated the same in her eyes. The will to win is huge.

“This year we’re not looking back in the past, we’re just focusing on where we are now, on the next game. I know that’s probably not what ye want to hear but that’s the way it is,” she laughs.

What reporters do always want to hear about though is the player’s life off the field. That’s often where the best stories lie, and in this case, it’s absolutely no different.

26-year-old Walsh is a nurse, working in the vascular ward in St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, for the past three years or so. Before starting full-time, she trained there while studying in University College Dublin [UCD].

A pretty demanding job so, with long, long hours. Living in Dublin, she travels down home for training. So there’s a pretty interesting story to tell there.

“I work every Monday, train Tuesday, work Wednesday, train Thursday, work Friday and train either Saturday or Sunday,” she explains. “We have to do four days-a-week every eight weeks.

“The shifts are 12 and-a-half hours; start at half seven in the morning, finish at eight on a good day. I think I’m well used to it now.

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Facing Galway last year.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I used to have a really good lie-in,” she says of her days off work and on training, “and take my time going home but I actually found I was more tired driving straight to training.”

Up early, home to Kilkenn early, with quality family time squeezed in beforehand now.

“I have a niece and nephew, Finn and Pippa [Tommy’s kids], that live right beside us. I play with them for the majority of the day and they do be sick of me! I try and make the most of those training days, be active as much as I can and I find I’m not as tired then.

“My managers in work have been absolutely unbelievable, they’re so accommodating and at the moment I’m mostly doing day shifts and don’t do nights. During the winter I try to make up as many night shifts as I can.”

It’s a lonely road home often, but it’s all worth it when she gets down to the people and the set-up she loves. Walsh eats, sleeps and breathes camogie. They all do. And that’s passed down by a certain someone at the top.

Ann Downey.

“Ann is the absolute heart of the team,” Walsh beams.

“Whatever buzz she’s on that’s what everyone else is on. She’s like the mammy of the team. She’s a tough, tough cookie and will give it to you hard but at the same time she’ll look after you 100 per cent.”

Little has changed within the management set-up; both Downey and Liam Egan have stayed on so that continuity is key, while Ray Chandler and Brian Dowling have come in and freshened things up.

“We were really happy that Ann and Liam stayed on and equally as happy to have the two new lads in. It’s nice to have something new in the camp, training has changed a bit this year and everyone is really enjoying it.

At last week’s camogie launch.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“They all bring something different. The sessions are that bit different, there’s lots of variety.”

There’s similar continuity in the player group, the core crew staying together with the exception of attacking star Shelly Farrell, who has gone travelling. 

“She’s always texting us to say, ‘Best of luck,’” Walsh smiles. “She’s over in Australia, she’s living the dream over there at the moment and still playing a bit away out there.”

Farrell will surely be texting her former team-mates on Saturday, when they get their All-Ireland championship campaign underway in Group 1 against 2019 league winners Galway.

Revenge is on the cards and excitement is building. 

Especially for Walsh, who was injured for the league final showdown and is more than ready to “have a crack at them”. A nasty ankle injury kept her in the stands for that one, but she’s fully fit now and primed for battle. 

“I’m just buzzing to be back… the league final is what it is,” she concludes, with a laugh.

“Sorry, that’s a new Love Island reference!”

That it sure is. You’d wonder how she manages to fit the hour of television in every evening, but then again, you’d never doubt Grace Walsh.

– Originally published at 14.52

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