Kilkenny’s Grace Walsh can hardly remember a time when she wasn’t pucking a sliotar with a hurl. Looking at the GAA pedigree of her family though, this fact is not entirely surprising.

Her maternal grandfather was one of the longest serving secretaries of Kilkenny County Board. On her father’s love of GAA, Grace laughs light-heartedly: “I’ve never met someone to be so obsessed.”

She has four brothers; two of whom are former and current Kilkenny hurling stalwarts, Tommy and Pádraig Walsh, respectively.

Speaking of stalwarts, undoubtedly, Grace herself is a stalwart of the Kilkenny camogie team, with three All-Irelands and two All-Stars to her name.

Grace, who is a nurse in Dublin, is from Tullaroan, where her family has a farm. Her father used to keep beef cattle, but at the moment the land is rented.

Growing up among a band of brothers, it was only natural that Grace would be very exposed to hurling. As a child, Grace didn’t see a difference between girls and boys.

“My dream was to be a Kilkenny hurler and play on the hurling team, because there was no visibility there of female players,” Grace says of her formative years. “When I was younger, I was just looking up to the men. It’s nice that things have changed.

When I was mid-teens I had that dream to be on the Kilkenny camogie team

“In 2009 Kilkenny camogie got to the All-Ireland final. I was 15 or 16 and that was my first realisation, Oh my God, camogie is that good in Kilkenny, and that’s when I really wanted to be on the Kilkenny camogie team.

“I went to Loretto Secondary School, Kilkenny, where we had a really good, successful camogie team. I think when you get a taste of success it drives you to get better and better. When I was mid-teens I had that dream to be on the Kilkenny camogie team; probably when I realised that there was a difference between men and women.

“We were lucky that at under 16 and minor county camogie, we got to play challenge games against the senior teams. From there then, I ended up getting onto the senior team when I was almost 17 or just gone 17. I got in when I was quite young. I was very driven.”

For a number of years at underage level, Grace’s club Tullaroan didn’t have a camogie setup. So she played with the boys.

Kilkenny camogie player Grace Walsh will take part in Plant the Planet Games this November in Kenya.

Local woman Breda Maher is a former Kilkenny camogie player and took her own daughter along with Grace to play with Freshford, now a rival club, so they would be used to playing with girls. Breda was instrumental in setting up the first Tullaroan underage camogie team.

Grace’s primary school principal was another former Kilkenny star, Breda Holmes, who was very encouraging of camogie and hurling in the school.

It’s only with hindsight that Grace can fully take in how important these role models were.

“To be honest, when I was that age I didn’t realise how fortunate I was to have those women as coaches. It’s only now I look back and see how fortunate I was.”

Plant the Planet

Female GAA players have a much larger profile now than they once did. To this end, Grace is using her profile to influence positive change.

She is one of 50 intercounty GAA players, women and men across all codes, who will travel to Kenya this month to take part in the Plant the Planet Games.

Organised by Warriors for Humanity founder and former Galway dual player Alan Kerins, the Plant the Planet Games are in partnership with Self Help Africa and the Gaelic Players Association (GPA).

Grace and this group of fellow star players will take part in the first All-Star game played in Africa, as well as the first combined male and female GAA game.

Each player participating in the games has committed to raising €10,000, with the goal being to plant one million trees with Self Help Africa.

Each tree planted will represent a livelihood for an African family and an integral part of the project is training farmers on managing their trees for this purpose.

Grace is almost at her fundraising goal, with just under €9,000 raised.

For Grace, it’s nice to be able to use her intercounty platform to help others and have a positive influence on the next generation.

“When I started playing camogie, I wouldn’t really have had any kind of a profile. We’re much more visible to young players now. We’re not only going to help families that are a lot less fortunate than us, we’re also going to try and put some sort of a footprint down in helping the environment.

“I think if you can influence younger kids who look up to male and female GAA players to just be aware of how less fortunate some families are out there and how privileged we actually are, it’s a really good thing.”

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