Walsh's move to the west pays off
Former Shannon Gaels man wins Galway SFC medal
Niall Walsh’s last championship match with Shannon Gaels was the JFC quarter-final against Denn in September of 2018. The full-forward scored 1-4 on the day but a late free saw Denn take the spoils by 2-16 to 2-15.
By then, the former Cavan minor and U21 attacker was based in Galway, where he had began work as a Garda a couple of months earlier. Soon, he made his mind up that travelling home for training and matches wasn’t going to work and for the start of the 2019 season, he threw his lot in with the local Moycullen club.
That decision quickly paid off; 10 days ago, Walsh picked up a Galway Senior Championship medal, lining out at full-forward as Moycullen won the title for the first time in their history.
The move came about by chance. Walsh found himself working with the Moycullen team manager and given that he was living close by, decided he would give it a go.
“It was a bit of luck. The unit I landed on in Galway, the manager is on the unit with me. There was no other option after that!” smiled the 26-year-old this week.
“Speaking to other people, they said Moycullen were a good up and coming club. It’s only four or five kilometres outside the city so it suited me down to the ground.”
With players missing, Walsh was handed a jersey early on and he has held on to it since.
“There are a lot of county representatives there, there were five on the Galway senior panel last year and another two or three on the U20s so when it came to the first league games, we were quite depleted so I was straight into the team and as the year progressed I managed to hang on to my spot and I have done ever since really.
“2019 was good, we made the semi-final, lost to Tuam by four or five points. That was a big progression for the team because Moycullen only won the Intermediate Championship in 2015. In 2018 they made the quarter-finals and then the next step was to reach the semi-final and that was Moycullen’s first semi-final in 42 years.
“We also got promoted out of Division 2 in the league so overall it was a good year but there was still a lot of disappointment when we lost to Tuam in that semi-final because we were four up at half-time, I think we got the first score of the second half as well and then just got sucker-punched, Tuam got 2-5 without reply and we just couldn’t recover.
“But we were close and we knew the team was there to go that step further again.”
This time around, Moycullen were determined to do just that.
“I know a lot of teams sit down at the beginning of the year and their objectives are to win something and you wonder do they always believe that. But we sat down in January, pre-Covid, and had a meeting and the one objective that was up on the whiteboard was to win the Frank Fox Cup.
“It was as simple as that, that was the objective from the first day and we knew that we had the squad to do that and we had two lads coming out of minor which was going to improve us.
“We set out our stall from that and as the year went on, things started to fall into place and we got that bit of luck. Once we got to the day of the final, anything can happen that day.”
Moycullen went into the final against Mountbellew-Moylough, conquerors of the peerless Corofin, as underdogs but within their own camp, Walsh tells The Anglo-Celt, they felt it was a 50-50 game. With Corofin out of the way, they knew they had a huge chance.
“Once Corofin were beat, we saw it as a massive opportunity to sneak in under the radar and just kind of nick a championship.
“It was a massive boost for training for the week to know that you weren’t coming up against the three-time defending All-Ireland champions.”
An inside forward of note with the Cavan minors and U21s, Walsh felt his progress had stalled a little and when the opportunity came to test himself at the highest level in Galway, he grabbed it.
“It was a great experience playing with Cavan minors and U21s but I got into a bit of a rut, I wasn’t really doing myself justice in terms of minding myself, physically and mentally and all that sort of stuff and preparation. Moving up here and joining the club gave me a new lease of life in terms of my football career.
“I just knew the way I was carrying myself in terms of training wouldn’t cut it at this level. If you asked me to go into a gym five years ago I would have laughed at you but that’s where it is now and that’s where you have to be. I’ve put a lot of work into that, getting myself physically right and it’s stood to me up here. It has been a great experience for me since day one.”
In his absence, Shannon Gaels have been very competitive. Last year, they made the junior final and this year the semi, with his younger brother Shane, also a forward, having graduated to the senior side.
“I watched the stream when they played Munterconnaught, unfortunately we were playing the same morning they played Denn which was probably a day to forget but I have a keen interest alright, especially with Shane playing.
“Last year was difficult. You couldn’t not say it was difficult. Obviously there was delight but the week leading up to it [Shannon Gaels’ JFC final], I was trying to get my mind on the semi-final with Tuam but there was also ‘what if?’… Wouldn’t I have loved to be going out on Breffni Park with Shannon Gaels on the Sunday for the final.
“I couldn’t come down to it because we were training ourselves that morning but I was listening intently on the radio. They gave it a good go and played well but just came up short. From my time, I know the quality that the likes of Killinkere, Drumlane, Denn have in the last couple of years in the junior so Killinere were probably worthy winners in the end.”
An inevitable question is how he compares the standard in Cavan and Galway. While his involvement with his home club was at junior level, he has followed the Senior Championship in Cavan and believes it stacks up quite well.
“I still follow the Cavan championship quite a bit, I watched a couple of games. I watched the finals, the first game was a terrific game of football. I watched Cavan Gaels play Ramor in the quarter-final, I got the stream for it, and Gearoid McKiernan had a huge game that day.
“There is huge, huge talent in Cavan at the minute and that was evident particularly in the final, I’m 26 but there were a lot of lads playing for Crosserlough and Kingscourt who I didn’t even know because they are 20, 21, 22.
“I didn’t even know about these fellas but you can see that the talent is there, there is a huge pool of young players stepping up and playing well in the Senior Championship so the future is bright in that respect.”
For Moycullen, there is some disappointment that there is no Connacht club championship to prepare for, especially given Corofin’s pedigree in that competition.
“It definitely is. Last year Tuam ran Corofin to a replay, the year before Mountbellew-Moylough ran Corofin to a replay. It’s very, very competitive up here and people might look and say ‘well Corofin are winning every year’ but I guarantee you if another club got a chance they’d represent Galway just as well.
“It is a disappointing not to know where we might stand in the overall scheme of things but hopefully it will drive us on to try and retain the championship next year.
“There is a good spine there, there were four lads who were 20 or younger starting. We have a good strong senior county contingent and U20 contingent. Corofin will be back with a vengeance, they are still the marker. We may have snuck in under the radar and took this one but if we are to win it again this year, we will have to beat Corofin at some stage. That’s the aim now.”
So, bigger challenges lie ahead but for this winter, Walsh can be happy that his gamble of swapping west Cavan for the west of Ireland has paid off in style.