STEPHEN Walsh made his Limerick senior championship debut in 2009.
But still the very thought of the Munster SHC brings giddy excitement.
“Munster championship hurling - there is nothing like it. As a player it’s phenomenal, the passion from the fans, the support, the colour,” he enthused.
“I am close enough to Tipperary in my neck of the woods. At this side of the city people would view Clare as a natural rival but for me it’s Cork and Tipperary and from that point of view I can’t wait,” said the Glenroe club-man at the Limerick hurling media event in The Greenhills Hotel.
“It’s great to have games coming fast and ready especially when confidence is up and lads are feeling good.”
No time to celebrate and no time to stagnate?
“You put so much effort into it - you compartmentalise your life preparing for a day and when you do get a result you do have to enjoy it. For me the nicest feeling ever is when that whistle is blown and there is a surge of supporters onto the field and you are meeting your friends, family and team-mates and then the dressing room afterwards is such a great place to be. We were starved of that feeling for so many years but we have been lucky to experience it for the last couple of years so you have to enjoy it for a few days and then it’s head down again and move forward,” he outlined.
“TJ (Ryan) spoke the first night that we went back proper and said that there was a line drawn in the sand and that we had to drive on again and there was no question of having a hangover after the Clare game or resting on our laurels,” warned the corner back.
Recalling the quarter final win over Clare, Walsh spoke of the need to move forward from the league losses.
“I know there were questions raised and eyebrows raised after the defeat to Dublin and more so within ourselves because we have high standards among ourselves. We went up to Dublin fully expecting to get a result but not expecting to get annihilated and that’s what it was - it was embarrassing in the end because no one wants to be well beaten. It was a massive eye opener and we went back and had an honest chat among ourselves and there were some harsh realities told and lads were told were had six to eight weeks to get ready and knuckle down and put our shoulder to the wheel and that’s the way things turned out,” he outlined.
“It was a tactical battle and probably one of the most physical games I have every played - hitting and especially running off the ball. Speaking to the lads afterwards they were sore until up to Thursday and Friday - I don’t know if people picked up on that but it was such a physical game,” he said of the win over Clare.
But he expects Tipperary to be different.
“If you were to look at it now you would imagine that the Tipperary game will be more orthodox 15-on-15 old style game but everything else in terms of physicality and pace will all be upped again because Tipperary are a fantastic and have proved that down the years. Even when they have got knocks they respond with gusto and we would be foolish to underestimate them or look past them.”
He added: “We have had great battles the last few years but it’s great to be back in the Gaelic Grounds again - the Limerick supporters are going to come out in force and will expect a good game and a good battle and we feel we can live up to our end”.
Limerick are bidding for a third successive win over Tipperary, but that’s not a fact that Walsh draws much comfort from.
“For us there is no point dwelling on what Tipperary are thinking or what’s gone on in the years previous. Its a new year and one game and you just have to focus on one game on June 21 and getting yourself and the group right for that 70 minutes - everything outside of that focus is irrelevant,” he said.
Not even mention of a third successive Munster final can alter Walsh’s focus.
“You know that the prize at the end is another Munster final but even to be thinking that way is nearly too far ahead because if your thinking one game to a Munster final, you are doing a disservice to Tipperary because that 70 minutes will have many twists and turns and will be a mental, physical and tactical battle and if you are not prepared in all those facets for what’s coming then you won’t be in the right place.
“It means you can’t relax as a player, you have to focus for every game and it’s great to be part of that.”