Versatility was in high demand for the top hurling teams during the first two championship weekends, with the move of key players being a feature.
yle Hayes made perhaps the most dramatic impression with his goal against Cork, a result of John Kiely’s call for him to be reinstated as a striker in Séamus Flanagan’s absence. Hayes spent his first three seasons with the team as a center forward, so the territory isn’t entirely new to him. And it also brought Dan Morrissey to half-back, where he was until midway through the 2020 Munster Championship.
John Conlon had already laid the groundwork for his move to centre-back last year after cultivating a career as a main defender in Clare attack but excelling against Tipperary, while Shane O’Donnell returned after suffering concussion problems last year saw him integrated as a center forward in the same game to impressive effect.
But there is probably no more agile celebration of skidding than Pádraig Walsh these days.
Over the years, Walsh has been in a position in every line of a Kilkenny starting team save as a full forward. In some team arcs, he started as a right corner forward in the 2017 Leinster Championship loss to Wexford, although he played around the centre-forward. He had been surprisingly admitted in advance due to injury concerns.
Like his brother Tommy, Pádraig has the same fire-fighting qualities, putting out flames as they rise, from full-back to centre-back and midfield and now back to centre-forward again.
Brian Cody has given the No. 3 jersey to few players over his 24 seasons, but Walsh was entrusted with it for part of 2017 and all of 2018. His stature is not an obvious obstacle to the role.
His importance to Kilkenny is reflected in how comfortably he takes on these new challenges all the time, but also in his constant presence.
Since establishing himself as a regular in 2014 – he was axed for the All Ireland Final against Tipperary before being recalled for the replay where he put on a performance that came close to Man of the Match standards – he has been involved in all 41 championship games, a sequence surpassed only by TJ Reid at the time.
But when Reid sat out the start of last week’s opener against Westmeath, Walsh singled out 36 consecutive wins since the 2014 All-Ireland final replay.
His return to centre-forward is among a number of tweaks Cody made to rebalance the team in 2022.
Paddy Deegan made the switch from full-back to Walsh’s old centre-back, while Adrian Mullen took over the relative liberation of midfield with consummate ease in the last two games, a position that has so far put his ball hits to good use.
But Walsh’s move to the fulcrum of attack has arguably produced the most telling results to date. In five league games he played, he amassed 17 points, reserving his best performances for games against Tipperary, Dublin and Waterford. He has added four points every night against Westmeath and Laois for the past two weekends and while the quality of the opponents has increased from now on the value of the move was evident.
It’s a role he’s well accustomed to playing for Tullaroan. When he won an All-Star as a half-back in 2016, he had one of his best years for his club as a centre-forward.
Kilkenny’s trip to Galway this weekend will focus heavily on Henry Shefflin’s involvement as Galway manager and his overhaul of their team with a number of new faces involved.
But for Cody and Kilkenny the focus has been on position changes rather than personnel changes, with new roles being re-filled for veterans.
Few adapt better to new environments than Walsh.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/hurling/firefighter-padraig-walsh-the-focal-point-of-brian-codys-latest-kilkenny-revamp-41591071.html Firefighter Pádraig Walsh takes center stage in Brian Cody’s latest Kilkenny revamp