Devastating injuries and AFL dreams – the best friends and sons of Kerry legends who never gave up

BEFORE DAVID MORAN and Tommy Walsh carved out reputations in their own right, they were just the sons of famous fathers trying to make it big.

Tommy Walsh, Sean Walsh, David Moran and Denis ‘Ogie’ Moran.

Source: Inpho

Denis ‘Ogie’ Moran and Sean Walsh, two mainstays of the great Kerry Golden Years side, won 15 senior All-Ireland medals between them from 1975 to 1987.

The late broadcaster Weeshie Fogarty once described the bloodlines of footballing families as “the secret of Kerry”. The county have traditionally always had breeding that transcended generations, from the Ó Sés to the Spillanes, O’Keeffes, Sheehys, Fitzgeralds, Kennellys and the Lynes.

The Morans and Walshes belong in that category too. 

Of course, it’s not uncommon for sons of former players to follow in their father’s footsteps on the county scene.

Of the current Dublin squad, James McCarthy, Jack McCaffrey, Dean Rock, Bernard Brogan and Con O’Callaghan all had fathers who donned the county colours in the past. 

Dean Rock’s father Barney is tackled by Tom Spillane in the 1984 All-Ireland final.

Source: INPHO

That exposure might not have made the journey any easier but it made it seem more obtainable, less of a dream, more of a reality. They certainly had odds to beat and mountains to climb, but having fathers who already beat those odds and scaled the heights makes the journey a lot less daunting. 

The other side of it is the expectations placed on youngsters with a famous surname. They may have inherited physical and footballing gifts, but they also had long shadows to emerge from. 

“I think in Kerry if you’re any good, then you’re better than any of they were,” David Moran said in 2015. “Or if you’re not as good, then you’re way worse. You’re never just as good as.”

37 years after ‘Ogie’ and Sean saw their five-in-a-row hopes go up in smoke against Offaly, their sons have the chance to deny Dublin a similar feat this weekend. It would be a fitting symmetry for David and Tommy, who’ve both overcome plenty of battles along the way. 

We chart the careers of both men, from hot-shot minors to All-Ireland champions and AFL dreams, to the injuries and doubts they suffered along the way. 

EARLY DAYS (2005-08)

Tommy Walsh was a powerful minor in 2006.

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

David Moran and Tommy Walsh grew up about half a mile apart in Tralee and were best friends as far back as they can remember. They rose through the underage ranks of Kerins O’Rahilly’s together and played on the same school team. 

Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston was close with ‘Ogie’ Moran and once said his earliest memories of young David was “how he used to raid my fridge as a four-year old.”

On the football field, Walsh and Moran were a formidable combination. Walsh played mainly at full-forward with Moran at centre-field for the school and club. They won every single county championship with Kerins O’Rahilly’s in their age group all the way up to minor level.

Off the pitch, they were inseparable. Tommy’s brother Barry John was two years younger while David’s brother Brian was two years older. “The four of us would be very tight,” recalled Moran in 2016.

Walsh played two years minor for Kerry in 2005 and 2006, while Moran was on the team for the latter season. The pair lined out in midfield for the All-Ireland final replay defeat to Roscommon in ’06. Moran grabbed two points in the drawn game at Croke Park. Walsh scored a brace in the replay but they lost by four points. 

The Kerry U21 team ahead of the 2008 All-Ireland final against Kildare.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

In 2007, Walsh made the U21 panel. He featured at full-forward but Kerry’s Munster campaign ended in a 1-6 to 0-6 loss to Clare. Moran received his U21 call-up the following season as Kerry won their first All-Ireland title at the grade since 1998.

They defeated Kildare by 2-12 to 0-11 in the final, with Walsh scoring a point at full-forward while Moran clipped over two from midfield. 

SENIOR BREAKTHROUGHS (2008)

David Moran during his Kerry debut in February 2008.

Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

Walsh featured once under Jack O’Connor in the 2007 league but made three appearances in the competition in 2008. He scored two points in his only start, against Laois, before making his championship debut off the bench against Clare in Munster.

The teenager came on as a sub in the Munster final defeat to Cork and started five of Kerry’s next six games, including the All-Ireland final defeat to Tyrone where he bagged a point.

Moran made two starts during the league but the U21 success in May saw his stock rise. He managed to force his way into the reckoning under new boss Pat O’Shea by the end of the summer, arriving off the bench in the All-Ireland semi-final and final.

The pair were well able to handle the rough and tumble of Kerry training, even at a young age. 

“I remember he came in first, Tommy and David Moran came in off the back of the minors,” recalls Aidan O’Mahony.

“We had a trial game inside and he (Walsh) came in full-forward. And you would always introduce some young lad to training, you would have a pull of a jersey off him a small bit.

“He gave me a belt of an elbow and I was saying to myself we are not dealing with no young lad here. He was a different calibre of player.”

In his autobiography, Colm Cooper recalled an incident prior to the quarter-final, when Moran accidentally caught veteran and rival for his position Darragh Ó Sé during a training drill.

“Anyway, whatever way he caught Darragh, the big fella wasn’t having it,” wrote Cooper.

“So he hit David a right clip and, I don’t know, it just seemed bang out of order. I suppose the feeling would have been ‘Fuck it Darragh, if you’re going to clip someone, don’t do it to a young fella!”

“He’d have had big time for David, but maybe this was partly his way of putting down a marker too to the new midfielder. Only one big buck in this town.” 

ALL-IRELAND & AFL DREAMS (2008-09)

Mike Quirke and Tommy Walsh celebrate All-Ireland success in 2009.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Following the conclusion of the All-Ireland SFC, Moran and Walsh went straight back into club duty. The Strand Road side reached the Kerry SFC final and their two young stars were offered trials by AFL club St Kilda. The county final went to a replay, meaning the pair were forced to turn down the offer. 

The deadline for international recruits had passed by that stage ruling out the chance for them to sign for the 2009 season, but Walsh took up the Melbourne club’s offer to fly out following the replay defeat to Mid Kerry. Walsh had taken a year out from his studies in IT Tralee, but Moran had to skip the trip due to his Christmas exams in the University of Limerick. 

In 2009, Walsh reached new heights as part of a ‘Twin Towers’ full-forward line alongside Kieran Donaghy with Colm Cooper playing off them. He kicked four points in the All-Ireland final win over Cork, two off either boot, on the way to claiming Young Footballer of the Year. 

“I played with Tommy in 2009 before he left and he was just outstanding,” remembers Tomas Ó Sé.

“He kicked four from play in the 2009 final and we thought we had another Gooch – we had another Gooch – and then he went off to Australia.” 

Tommy Walsh training with his new St Kilda teammates in Melbourne.

Source: Getty Images/INPHO

Aidan O’Mahony adds: “He had a massive year in 2009, he kicked four points in the All-Ireland final against Cork. Massive loss to us at that time when he went off to Australia.

“It was the start of players going off. For us that time, he was something different to what we had. We tried the Twin Towers in 2008 with himself and Donaghy inside. He was a beautiful kicker of the ball. But he was so strong, Jesus Christ! He was an animal of a player.”

Things were trickier for Moran, who couldn’t break the midfield partnership of Darragh Ó Sé and Seamus Scanlon, while Tadhg Kennelly took up a deep half-forward role. His four championship appearances that summer were all off the bench. That winter, both Walsh and Moran headed Down Under to train with St Kilda. Moran returned, Walsh stayed put.

“It would have been nice, to be a professional athlete for a while,” said Moran last year. “But I wasn’t offered a contract. So that was that.

“I would have liked to have had a shot at it. I have mixed emotions on it. I have no regrets, which is a big thing. I went over and gave it everything I had. I came up short. I came home. I got on with my career. I don’t wake up in the middle of the night wishing I did or didn’t go.” 

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DIVERGING PATHS (2010-13)

David Moran lies injured after tearing his ACL for the first time in 2011.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Walsh took time to adapt to the oval ball and was largely employed as a defender during his first campaign in Australia with St Kilda’s second team. After Darragh Ó Sé’s Kerry retirement, Moran’s path to the starting team was blocked by Mike Quirke, Anthony Maher and Scanlon.

Following two seasons playing in the VFL (the AFL’s reserve league), Walsh requested and received a trade to the Sydney Swans in October 2011. ”I feel like I’m ready,” the 23-year-old said. “We won’t know for sure until I actually play, but I do feel ready. I don’t mind where I play. I just want to play.”

He took the number 17 jersey from the recently retired Kennelly, who he’d be living with for a spell after his move to Sydney. 

Meanwhile back in Kerry, Moran was enduring a hellish period of his career. He tore his cruciate in his left knee for the first time against Monaghan in the 2011 league and 10 months later suffered the exact same injury while training with his club.

He sat out two summers in succession and didn’t kick a ball in championship for Kerry between July 2010 and August 2013. Shortly after he completed his second ACL rehab he suffered a shoulder injury that derailed his 2013 league campaign.

Then that May during a challenge match against Laois, Moran suffered a tore retina inside his right eye after a freak accident. 

“I remember turning around to Aidan O’Mahony, asking him was my eye open or closed, because I couldn’t see anything out of it,” Moran said in 2015. “He just looked at me, and asked, ‘What are you on about?’

“And the retina is not like a bone, which you know will mend. This was fluid, which is totally different. With the cruciate, it was almost easier, because you have to do the rehab, anyway, to get yourself right, for the rest of your life, whether that’s going for a jog, or whatever. With the eye, it was killing me, not knowing how it would react to the treatment. Thankfully it all came well in the end.”

There were initial concerns about his ability to regain full vision in his eye, let alone return to the field. He underwent a laser procedure in Cork University Hospital and the eye was mended in time for him to appear as a sub in the quarter-final against Cavan and semi-final defeat to Dublin.

The same month Moran suffered his eye injury, Walsh made his AFL debut for the Swans against Melbourne. It was one of just five senior appearances he’d make for the club. In June, he suffered a devastating hamstring injury, tearing the muscle off the bone during the AFL round 10 clash against Essendon.

David Moran lifts the Sam Maguire Cup in 2011.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

COMEBACK TRAIL (2014)

After a 12-month absence, Walsh made his comeback for Sydney’s reserve side but the injury took its toll and he failed to force his way back into the senior team.

“When things are going well, you’re on top of the world but because it’s not just a sport you’re playing, but your profession, there are lows,” Walsh remarked. 

During that summer, Walsh and a few Kerry natives based in Sydney would gather to take inthe county’s championship games on TV together in the one house. 

They watched as Moran enjoyed a coming-of-age campaign.

He benefited from a sustained run in the team during the 2014 league before a knee issue slowed down his progress. An injury to Byran Sheehan paved the way for Moran to start in the epic drawn All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo. In the replay, he logged 47 possessions, more than twice any Mayo player, and was now firmly Kerry’s key man in the middle third. 

Kerry powered to victory in the final against Donegal and Moran finally had his All-Ireland medal as a starter. His emotional embrace with his parents after the final spoke volumes of the journey he travelled. 

“I suppose there was a lot of pressure on him coming in and his own background and everything,” says Ó Sé. “But over the course of the years and to come back from two cruciates and to be the leader he is, he has great character in him.”  

RETURN HOME (2015-18)

Walsh celebrates scoring a goal against Cork in the 2015 league but things didn’t work out on his return to the Kerry panel.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Walsh announced his decision to come home from the AFL at the end of the 2014 season, describing his Oz adventure as “the best thing I ever did”. He was 27 when he returned to the Kerry set-up in 2015 under Eamonn Fitzmaurice but struggled for game-time.

Mikey Sheehy – a selector under Fitzmaurice – admitted earlier this year that Kerry may have rushed back too soon.

“I was very anxious to get back with Kerry and they were very anxious for me to come in,” Walsh said last year on the GAA Hour podcast. “Looking back I probably would have done things a bit differently, and I’d say the management would as well. I just didn’t get the run after that.”

After he was an unused substitute in the 2016 league final, he opted to drop off the panel.

“When he was in with us and it didn’t quite work out…he was so professional, he was so courteous,” recalled Fitzmaurice on the Irish Examiner podcast recently. “There was no sour grapes or throwing the toys out of the cot.

“But I do remember when he was finishing up after the league final and he went back to the club, he said to me, ‘Look, I don’t feel that my Kerry story is over.

“And I said, ‘I agree with you, I don’t think it’s over either.”

And so it transpired.

Moran and Kerry were beaten in the 2015 All-Ireland final, before falling in the semi-final to Dublin (2016) and Mayo (2017), while they exited at the Super 8s stage last summer.

A NEW DAWN (2019) 

Walsh and Moran during the All-Ireland semi-final win over Tyrone.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Walsh rehabilitated his mind and body and slowly rebuilt his form back where it all began – on Strand Road with Kerins O’Rahilly’s.

“He was terrorising us in the club games for years when he wasn’t inside in Kerry, so I’m happy he’s actually back inside with Kerry,” laughs O’Mahony.

“It wouldn’t have been easy for him to come back after the Aussie Rules. I think a lot of players if they had that injury they wouldn’t have come back after it. It was a frightening injury.

“He came back and when he left the panel that time, definitely I could say even if it was myself you’d say, ‘Look, I’ll throw my lot in with the club now and that’s it.’ He was asked back in again by Peter Keane. He’s made a massive difference this year.” 

The call came from rookie boss Keane last winter and after showing signs of class during the league, he had to bide his time until he had a major impact off the bench in the All-Ireland semi-final comeback win over Tyrone.

“For Tommy to come back, especially with the injury outside, and to rebuild his confidence again, it’s a huge achievement for himself personally,” says Ó Sé.

“He’s buzzing like. I think he has an attitude where he’s like, there’s not much else that can go wrong. He’s had his lows like. He’s throwing everything at it and it’s gone brilliantly for him.”

O’Mahony is in agreement and feels Walsh could have a similar impact to Seamus Darby in that famous final of 1982 when Ogie Moran and Sean Walsh watched the Drive for Five dashed with a late goal.

“And now he is 31, and he is still effective and he has come back from that horrific injury,” continues O’Mahony. “I definitely think we would have won more if we had Tommy Walsh back then.

“Wouldn’t it be unreal? Tommy Walsh, the Seamus Darby and his father and all playing (in 82). It’d make a great headline.

“That gives us hope below in Kerry that these young players have come through and there’s a mixture. When you’re talking about the older lads you’re talking about David Moran, who’s having a majestic year for Kerry and you’d hope he’d have another one in the All-Ireland final as well.”

So a decade on from their last time they shared the field in an All-Ireland final, Moran and Walsh are central figures for Kerry once again.

And their legendary fathers will be in the crowd on Sunday, hoping to see their now-famous sons deliver the big prize. After all the ups and downs they’ve encountered on their respective journeys, this would be the sweetest one of them all.

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