Kerry Footballers

Eddie Walsh - The Pride Of Knocknagoshel

by Weeshie Fogarty

When one works as a newspaperman for well over two decades, you naturally encounter quite a varied cross-section of people of almost every walk of life. You meet the happy and the sad, the rich and the poor, the jocular and the despondent, the famous and the not-so-famous. But, like any other occupation, one learns with the passage of time to take all these multifarious forms of people in your stride. Yet, somehow, when Jerry Carroll of Master Myles fame and later Denis Stack of the Emmetts Club suggested an interview with Eddie Walsh of Knocknagoshel, one felt that this was one interview that would be more intriguing than perhaps any other we had ever undertaken. And that's exactly how it proved to be.

From the moment Denis Stack and myself set foot in Eddie Walsh's licensed premised in Knocknagoshel on that sunlit April evening, time seemed to stand still. Eddie himself gave us a real warm welcome and with some liquid nourishment to match the spontaneous hospitality it wasn't long before the talk of football and especially that of Kerry rent the air in Walsh's cosy parlour.

I opened the conversation with Eddie rather tentatively by stating what we thought was the obvious -that he was the holder of four All-lreland medals; only to be quickly put right on this very important matter and informed by the man himself that he did, in fact. have five All-Ireland senior football medals.
"I was a sub in '37, even though I didn't actually play," said Eddie who displayed a vast knowledge on every conceivable aspect of Gaelic football. On the journey to Knocknagoshel with Denis Slack, I had memorized the dates of the All-Ireland successes with which Eddie is commonly credited - 1939, '40, '41 and '46. And yet here we were only a few minutes into our interview and already the record was being set straight by the man himself.

I had to admit to Eddie at the outset that as a youngster growing up in the 40's, he had been my own particular hero among the Kerry players of the day. A scrapbook was never complete in those days without that fascinating picture from the 1946 All-Ireland Final showing Eddie and Roscommon's Frankie Kinlough engaged in a close-quarter duel for possession, with the Kerryman about to get the ball up onto his hands from his boot.

The simple fact of the matter is that as left half-backs go, Eddie Walsh's name has to be mentioned high up on the list whenever great wing backs are being talked about. He told me that he played in the All-Ireland semi- final in 1938 against Laois, and that he came on for a couple of minutes in the replayed final that same year against Galway. Kerry lost that particular replay by three points and with it went the chance of Kerry making it five All-lrelands on the trot.

"Not alone could we have won five in a row, but we could have made it six in a row," stressed Eddie with an undeniable air of self-righteousness. "We were beaten by a goal in the '42 semi-final by Galway."
He went on to explain: "In the closing stages of that game with Galway, I conceded a 50. If l had Ieft the ball go we would have won or at least drawn the game. Galway took the 50 and from it the ball went to Dan Kavanagh who got a goal." And the same Dan Kavanagh - today Dan is the Kerry Co. Engineer - was to be on the Kerry team with Eddie Walsh when they won the 1946 All-Ireland by beating Roscommon in a replay.

Eddie recalled how Kerry lost the '43 Munster Final to Cork after a very close game. They lost the following year's All-Ireland Final to Roscommon by two points. Then in '45, a great Cork side deprived Kerry of the Munster title and the Rebel County then went on to win the county's third All-lreland football crown. The year 1 946 saw a change in Kerry's and Eddie Walsh's fortunes when they swept out of Munster and went on to take the Sam Maguire Cup in a replay.

But there was still quite a lot of football in the dashing left-half back from Knocknagoshel. In 194 7 Kerry and Cavan met in the All-lreland final at the Polo Grounds in New York and that game is now part of GAA history, being the only time ever that a senior football final was played outside of Croke Park (or Jones's Road). Kerry lost that epic encounter by four points but, in Eddie's book, Kerry threw the title away.

"We should have won that game in the Polo Grounds," said Eddie who is now 64. "We came home and played them in Croke Park two weeks afterwards for a set of suit lengths and we beat them easily. Of course, you can't take away from Cavan - they won the AlI-Ireland the year after also." Eddie ruefully remembered referee Martin O' Neill of Wexford disallowing two goals by Kerry that day in the Polo Grounds. "The general feeling before the game was that there was no way Kerry could lose the match."
Eddie was marking the great Tony Tighe of sharp - shooting fame in the Polo Grounds final. The Kerryman had lo leave the pitch at half-time with his eye closed, following an accidental elbow. He was replaced by Mick Finucane, "a great winter footballer and a great Railway Cup man." The former Kerry great recalled the storming display turned in that day in the centre of the field by Eddie Dowling, despite the attentions of no less a man than the late Jim "Gunner" Brady. Dowling, too, retired injured that day and this was another blow to Kerry's hopes. Of Cavan's captain, John Joe Reilly, Eddie simply said: "He was a great man and an awful clean player. Tile tale P.J. Duke impressed him greatly also as did Simon Deignan - a man who pIayed county championship football with Tralee John Mitchels around the same time.
Eddie Walsh bowed out of the inter-county scene after 1948 when he was a sub on the team which lost heavily to a youthful Mayo side in the All-Ireland semi- final. We mentioned Frankie Kinlough to Eddie and immediately this brought back memories of their great clashes. Kinlough worked as an agricultural instructor in the Castleisland area, so himself and Eddie were good friends, and they still keep up the friendship.

"Frankie was a very brainy, clever player," said Eddie whose father was the late Ned Walsh, a giant of a man who in his time was champion ploughman of Munster as well as being Munster weightlifting champion. "He got the goal that won the '44 All-Ireland for Roscommon against us. That year he was supposed to have beaten me and in '46 I beat him." Eddie Walsh has always been renowned for his modesty on and off the field of play. No doubt, there are many Abbeydorney folk who don't realise that Eddie is, in fact, one of their very own, having been born there where he lived until he was about five years of age.
We were surprised to discover that Eddie never played Kerry minor. "ln those days it was very hard to get on. Tralee was a great football stronghold at that time." How did he hone and perfect his football skills then? "I learned my football out there on the street in Knocknagoshel as a youngster," said Eddie, who still sports a fine shock of hair even if now dappled a little with venerable dashes of grey. A unique achievement, indeed, to come out of such an obscure football background, never to have worn the county minor jersey and still to go on and become one of the great half-backs in the history of Kerry football.

Eddie played Kerry Junior in 1935 and '36 but no honours came their way - Sligo and Wicklow, respectively, winning All-Ireland titles. In his heyday, Eddie cut quite a dash, being 5ft 10 ½ inches tall and 13st 3lbs. He harked back to the day in 1938 when he played in North Kerry against Dingle in the county championship final at what is now Tralee dog park. The game could not be played at Austin Stack Park because it was waterlogged. Dingle emerged the victors - "Dingle had a great team in those days." In his time, Eddie played club football with North Kerry, Shannon Rangers and Moyvane, as well, of course, as with Castleisland. "There was no parish rule in those days."
But, as far as county championship football goes, the year that stands out in Eddie Walsh's memory is I950. For that was the year he collected his one and only county championship medal - it was also Castleisland's only success in the Kerry County Championship. Then a veteran, Eddie lined out at full -back on the side that got the better of Killarney in a replay on the score 1 -7 to 1-4. Other members of that famous Castleisland team were John Joe Sheehan, Diarmuid Hanafin. Paddy Batt Shanahan, Sean O'Connor and Martin McCarthy from Cordal.

Apart from his five All-lreland medals, the Knocknagoshel man won two Railway Cup medals (1941 and '46) and "eight or nine" Munster championships. No National League honours came Kerry's way in Eddie's time: it should also be remembered that there was no competition from 1942 to '45, inclusive. The Kerryman has a vivid memory for names and dates. He remembered the 1941 Railway Cup final in which Munster beat Ulster by a goal. He was marking Donal Morgan of Cavan, the Ulster captain, that day.

Then there was the All-Ireland semi-final replay the same year against Dublin at Tralee. "I was marking Jimmy Joy from Killorglin that day," said Eddie whose mother, Mrs. Mary Walsh (nee Dillon from Glouria, Lisselton), is still living, aged 94. "I had marked Jimmy in the National League semi-final before that and l thought he beat me. I made sure it did not happen again."
Eddie Walsh will always be remembered by Kerry folk for his keen sense of anticipation, timely clearances and, above all, his scrupulously fair play. He could kick with his left foot off his hand and take frees with his right foot which could often non-plus the opposition.

The staunch Ieft-half back had a remarkably injury- free playing career. "I suppose I was very lucky in that respect." But then, like all dedicated people, Eddie had brought his skills on the field of play to a fine art. "As a young fellow I would take the ball up the field and kick it before me. You must remember that there were no facilities for the likes of me in those days. I didn't go to college, just to the local schools. He reckons that the three-in-a-row team of which he was a member (1939-'41) was "a great, balanced team." But having said that he promptly accorded unstinting praise to the present Kerry fifteen.

"They are a great team by any standards," he emphasized. "There is great credit due to Mick O 'Dwyer. He is a great man to have at the helm. But, of course, it would be all no good if he hadn't the material." Jack O'Shea, Paudie Lynch and John O'Keeffe came in for special mention.

The conversation ranged to and fro and in the next breath he was extolling the goalkeeping talents of the late Danno Keeffe with whom Eddie had shared all of his All-Ireland successes. He had high praise too for Con Brosnan and Dr. Eamonn O' Sullivan for their expertise as trainers of different Kerry teams.

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