DAVID WALSH was perhaps the most unfortunate of all those on the periphery of the Donegal XV not to earn a start in the All-Ireland final last September.
The Naomh Bríd clubman had began all four of the Ulster championship matches last summer as Donegal won back to back provincial titles for the first time.
He also made telling contributions from the bench against Kerry and Cork, when he pointed from his first possession towards the end of the first half.
But for a man who is seen by many as the late developer in the county panel - only making his debut as a 26-year-old in the 2008 Ulster championship for Brian McIver’s Donegal against Derry - Walsh played a significant role all summer.
In fact, it looked for a while in his late teens that Walsh’s career in sport would be across the water as a soccer player.
A cruciate knee injury ended what had been a promising spell at English League club Luton Town -- he won a place on a Youth Training Scheme (Youth Training Scheme) at Kenilworth Road after impressing for Leicester City in a summer trip to Holland.
But once the knee went, so too did the aspirations of playing soccer professionally.
Since making his Donegal bow five seasons ago, Walsh has 22 championship appearances from Donegal’s 24 outings, more frequently a starter than a substitute.
From the outset or as the 16th man last September, his abilities to use possession well served Jim McGuinness’s team time and again. When the chance came in the All-Ireland final against Mayo, Walsh delivered again having linked with Frank McGlynn to set up Neil Gallagher for the insurance point.
When Sam Maguire made its way over the Termon Bridge in Pettigo that Monday night, Walsh, a native of nearby Ballinta, was the first player in the panel to show the silverware to his own club’s people as the McGuinness coach pulled into the other half of Naomh Bríd heartland in Laghey.
The All-Ireland final, though, was the last time Walsh wore the county colours having been sidelined with a shoulder injury since October’s club championship meeting with Aodh Ruadh.
He then frustratingly then had a slight tear in the quad-muscle. Walsh dreamed all spring of getting another fruitful summer.
Having continued to maintain his fitness throughout the New Year, he has been taking a full part in training for the last four weeks.
Now, Walsh is back knocking on McGuinness’s door at the most important time of year, just ahead of the championship.
“I was a little worried as there wasn’t a lot of time,” Walsh said when assessing the six months that have now passed.
“When it comes to February or March and you’re swinging your shoulder and not sure what’s going to happen, you start to wonder.
“I was getting a little bit anxious but thanks to the medical team and the rehab I did in the pool.
“It’s back to full strength. The confidence is the most important thing and I’ve had a few club matches and a month of county training.”
Walsh could evaluate Donegal’s stance in the league from the sidelines on spring Sundays, whilst working away on his own fitness outside of matchdays.
He wasn’t alone on the injury treatment table as Paddy McGrath, Mark McHugh, Neil McGee, Neil Gallagher and Anthony Thompson all missed various matches throughout the campaign.
But now, all, including Footballer of the Year Karl Lacey of course, are fit for that red letter day – May 26.
After a couple of All-County Football League Division Three outings for his club, Walsh returned to kick a point for his club in their 0-7 to 0-7 draw against Naomh Columba in the Intermediate championship preliminary round the weekend before last.
“We’ve had a right few fellas out throughout the league but it’s starting to take the right shape now with all the familiar faces back and the new lads coming in,” Walsh added.
“We’re all pushing hard together. The new lads that came in this year have done well and that will stand to them. That’s what we need.
“If it comes to a stage in a match and things need changing Jim knows he can just look over his shoulder to get a man on to do a job.”