Noel Walsh has been a pioneering voice in the GAA for many years, whether as an administrator or Clare football selector who paved the way for the historic breakthrough in 1992. It started on the football field in Miltown as he yearns for his beloved St Joseph’s to claim county championship honours. Joe Ó Muircheartaigh reports. NOEL Walsh’s life in the GAA has been about many things.
A Clare selector for 25 years — in the dark days when Kerry and Cork monopolised everything and inspired him to become an administrator so he could change things, with the ending of the ‘seeded draw’ in the Munster Championship being his big victory that was a building block for Clare’s Munster title win in 1992 when he was still a selector; his further career in administration as Munster Council chairman, GAA presidential candidate and the man who led the charge to throw open the gates of Croke Park to soccer and rugby. It started in Miltown though. On the football field — being involved with county championship winning teams in an association that comes full circle on Sunday as he cheers on this beloved St Joseph’s in the county final.
“It’s huge,” he says, “because football is so big in Miltown and the gap between county finals has been such a long one,”
he adds. Walsh won two county championship medals — in 1953 against Ennis Faughs and six years later against Sunday’s final opponents Cooraclare.
“I was a sub in ’53,” he recalls. “It was a very low-scoring game — it was something like 1-6 to 0-7 in a game that was played in Miltown. The man who got the winning goal was John Drury. He was only 17.
“Three weeks before he had played in the All-Ireland final against Mayo. In the space of those few weeks he played two huge games in any footballer’s career — an All-Ireland final in Croke Park and a county final on his home field in Miltown Malbay, but he never kicked a ball after it. They were the last two games of football that he played.
“He went to Dublin and work in Gold Flake. For some reason he joined Bective Rangers Rugby Club — he was never going to make it at rugby because he had no grounding in schools rugby or anything like that as he went to Flannan’s. There was no question but he had the potential to be an inter-county footballer though.”
It was the first of five county finals that Walsh was involved with as a player — three more came in the 1950s and another in ’62 during what he describes as a great era for the club at all levels of competition.
“From ’1949 to ’65 the club appeared in eight county finals,” he reveals. “’49, ’51, ’53, ’56, ’57, ’59, ’62 and ’65. I played in ’59 final we won against Cooraclare. We drew with them in Kilmihil and the replay was fixed for Kilrush — Cooraclare said they wouldn’t play, but we went down, togged out and went out onto the field. Michael Boyle from Quilty was refereeing and he threw in the ball, someone kicked it over the bar and the match was awarded to Miltown.
“Cooraclare objected to the county board, but lost their appeal but won at Munster Council level. Miltown said they wouldn’t replay it, but I was making the point that it was difficult to get to county finals — we’d lost to Cooraclare in ’56 and Kilrush in ’57 — so when you get your chance you have to take it. Common sense prevailed and we played it and we beat them in Kilrush.
“The key man in the whole era was Paddy Hennessy. When Miltown became successful from the period of 1949 onwards it was juvenile and minor players that he trained that made the club. During the ‘50s they won about six minors titles — four in a row and it would have been five only Paddy Mahoney was injured for that one. Paddy Mahoney and Peadar Lynch were the key men in the whole era,” he adds.
As for the training in those days, Walsh remembers the regime being a product of very different times. “To say that it was amateurish would be an exaggeration,” he laughs. “There was no kind of training done until you got to the county semifinal. You’d go out to the field, you’d have one ball and you’d tog out with no dressing room facilities.
“You’d go onto the field and the backs and the goalkeeper went towards goal and the forwards went out about 40 yards. The ball would be kicked in and out and if you weren’t strong enough you might spend the evening there and get no kick of a ball. The strong men dominated and you had to be able to contest for it. And there’d be no shower afterwards,” he adds.
The facilities in Hennessy Memorial Park have come a long way since then. Of course, the length of the journey doesn’t matter as long as St Joseph’s manage to bridge a 25-year gap to their last county championship title.