Grace Walsh is not someone you’d want to see lining out opposite you on a Camogie pitch.
The 25-year-old Tullaroan woman has become an integral piece of Ann Downey’s Kilkenny defence; a corner-back with pace to burn, and the ability to turnover and launch the next attack in the blink of an eye.
Walsh rightfully took her place on the 2018 Camogie All Star team, having made a massive contribution to Kilkenny’s march back to Croke Park.
Those moments pre-match where teams line out on the pitch awaiting throw-in are always interesting as you analyse who’s picking up who, who’s setting the tone with a shoulder, who’s getting the early psychological edge.
One pre-match moment in particular sticks out for Grace Walsh; she identifies it as the moment that made her.
She was 10 at the time, lining out for the Tullaroan Under-12 boys’ hurling team against neighbouring Castlecomer.
Walsh’s home village is part of a really small close-knit parish, where everyone is a hurling mad.
With four brothers and no sisters, her parents treated her as one of the boys and this carried over into club-life with Tullaroan not having its own Camogie team when she first picked up a hurl at the age of four.
Walsh knew no different – she’d played on the boys team from a young age, and that was the way it was. One of the Castlecomer lads, however, found her mere presence to hold comedic value.
“I remember I was playing left wing-back, and my marker was coming over onto me before the game started, and he’d a smile on his face, Walsh told RTÉ Sport.
“Laughing away to himself and I was like, ‘what is this lad laughing at?’
“I was real serious, ready to start the game. But he started calling his friends then, and he was laughing, and he was saying “look who I’m marking – I’m marking a girl!” In his head, this was brilliant – and he was gonna have the game of his life.”
Walsh was seething at the slagging that she took from her opposition. In her mind, she knew full well that she was a match for any boy and she decided there and then that she would prove him wrong.
“It really brought out the competitiveness in me, and it made me have ambitions to be the best and from that I always wanted to prove that I was just as good as the boys, if not better.”
That same summer, Grace made her first ever trip to Croke Park. Kilkenny were playing Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final, and the family were out in force to cheer on her older brother Tommy.
“I’ll never forget it, we were in the Davin Stand and Eddie Brennan scored a goal right into the net we were standing behind and then Tommy scored a goal too. The place just erupted.
“I just remember thinking, ‘I want to be that person, I want to be the person that makes the crowd erupt, and I want to play with that Kilkenny team’.
“At the time, because I was still young and I wasn’t really aware of the Camogie set-up, in my head I was going to play with the Kilkenny hurling team.”
Walsh continued to play with the Tullaroan boys up until Under-16s level, whilst simultaneously playing with the club’s now established Camogie team and soon enough her services were sought at county level, lining out for Kilkenny Camogie at various levels underage, before being called into the senior panel at 18.
“Playing with the boys and getting slagged for the first time gave me the drive and the ambition to prove myself that I could be as good as them, and to prove that I’m good enough to play for Kilkenny.
“The match in Croke Park hit the nail on the head further – something I’ll never forget, and something that I really appreciate now.”