Camogie defender, Grace Walsh, is a Tullaroan native whose life revolves around the sport.
Her earliest memories of camogie were playing with her brothers in their family’s back garden. Her family has always been a huge GAA fan, especially her dad. “He didn’t really let us sit inside much, so we were always outside pucking with the hurling sliotar as well”
In her local club, Tullaroan, Walsh remembers a woman named Breada Maher, who was pushing to start a camogie team as the town didn’t have any when Walsh was growing up. After playing with her club, Walsh got involved in the Kilkenny senior team when she was 16/17.
“You’re always proud to represent your county, but I suppose what you’re actually doing is representing your club. And with your club, especially mine, Tullaroan, we’re very small, so we’re a very close knit community. That’s where you grew up, that’s where you learned how to play and when you play on your county team, you’re representing your club. It’s an honor to represent your club and county team”
Walsh explained how Kilkenny did not get much of a break in between the 2020 final and the 2021 season. After 2021’s last season final, Walsh knew the team needed a break. Kilkenny did not play together again until January of 2022, so the pressure could be alleviated a little bit more. The team went on to win the 2022 All Ireland title in a nail-biting close game against the Rebels of Cork.
“The pressure was off our backs. We knew how good we were, we knew the players that we had on our team and on our panel and, I suppose, we kind of kicked off and started to enjoy it a little bit more and started off with a decent league.”
After bouncing back from the 2021 season to winning their 15th All-Ireland title back in August, Walsh talks about coming back from challenges. She states that her passion stems from using those losses to learn and do better. Her team is very resilient and they have a special bond. She says, “You’re trying to do your best, so that your teammates can reach their goals as well, so it comes from pride and passion, and always wanting to do better.”
The All-Ireland Title game they played against Cork was nail biting, with a final score of Kilkenny 1-13 to Cork's 1-12.
When asked her feelings when the final whistle blew, Grace did not hesitate to talk about how her team’s hard work finally paid off, “We were all mentally drained because it was such a close game and it was so so tough and it came off the back of an extremely tough semi-final against Galway as well. But it was pure elation and excitement, relief”
This was the third time Walsh has won the All-Ireland, so when asked how she stays hungry, she mentions the connection between her teammates once again. “When you’re playing a team sport, you wanna do your best for the other people that are players on the team. That’s where the drive and passion comes from. We’ve learned definitely as a group that nothing comes easy.”
Walsh took a step back from camogie towards the end of 2021 because “I was struggling to find my love for it at the time, the enjoyment just wasn’t really there” She says how amazing her management team was for working with her, and then she took a complete break- no training or groupchats. The want just built up inside of her again and helped her realize that she did want to go back.
“The love just gradually built up again”
When asked how her role changed throughout her time with the club, Walsh responds with a laugh “I was young and naive. I probably didn’t even kinda realise the team I was on when I started out, I was very young.”
She reflects how she learned a lot from the older players on her team, until the moment she realised she is one of the older players herself. “You’ve experienced it, you’ve been through it all. The group that’s there has experienced the highs and the lows together. You learn to share your experience with the younger players and the team”
She tries to be open and friendly, especially to the younger players. When asked about her leadership style on the team, she responds with “When you become more experienced, you learn that you need a really good bond to be a great team.”
Walsh voices how she would never push anyone on the team to do something she wouldn’t do herself. It is important to her that the younger players see the leaders of the team put in the hard work as well. She likes to lead by example.
The camogie star also works at the St. Vincent’s Hospital on Dublin’s southside. When speaking on balancing her full-time job and competing at such an elite level, Walsh says she feels lucky she was that the hospital has looked after her so much and allowed her to have that balance. She believes they compliment each other, so it doesn’t prove to be too difficult to do them both:
“When you have a tough day at work, and then you’re heading off to training, you kind of get to release those stresses or worries that you might have had in a different way than other people might be able to do. Again if you have a tough day on the pitch, then you head into work, and you don’t have time to think about anything that went on in your training or the match the day before. You get to focus on your patients”
Walsh graduated from the University College of Dublin (UCD), and lived in a house with other incredible athletes such as Chloe Mustaki and Ciara Mageean. She says how it was great to see all the different types of work and commitment the different players have. She loves seeing how great they are doing now.
“Back a few years ago when we were in college, you see the work and the commitment that they were putting in and the background. And now you’re seeing that all at work, hard work is paying off”
Walsh believes that having Mary McAleese as Independent chair of the three organisations is a massive step. Boys and girls should grow up knowing that they will be treated equally, especially in sport. Since GAA is all about community, same with camogie and the LFGA, it means that there will be inclusion for all.
“It will promote the women’s games more, with more promotion comes more crowds, it’s more competitive which improves the game. I just think that if integration happens, when it happens, it will be huge for both the GAA, LGFA and Camogie”
The sponsors for the Camogie All-Star awards this year are PwC, who are committed to 'celebrating excellence’. Walsh happily says how they have gotten on board with camogie and the female side of things.
When asked how she prepares for upcoming games, Walsh emphasizes how important prioritising mental health is. Because she’s a more experienced player, she knows it's important to speak up when you need a break or to speak with someone.
“You just prepare by looking after your body, eating right, sleeping right, but definitely looking after your mental health first. Once that’s okay, you’re looking after the physical side of things. And then your teammates of course, I suppose that’s what really helps you prepare as well because you wanna make sure as a team you reach your goal and you can only do that when everybody’s at the top of their game and enjoying it”
The presentation of the 2022 PwC Camogie All-Stars Awards will take place on the 26th of November in Croke Park.
PwC are the title sponsor of the 2022 PwC Camogie All-Star Awards, strengthening the firm’s support for Irish sport and reinforcing their commitment to increasing the profile and participation of women in sport.