The parish of Rosbercon has not seen anything quite like the reception afforded to one of its most (now) favourite sons, Walter ‘Wally’ Walsh - pronounced Welsh despite what Ger Canning says - at the weekend, writes Barrie Henriques.
In September he travelled to Croke Park as a young hopeful with Kilkenny. He returned a hero, winner of a senior All-Ireland medal and man of the match award as well after scoring 1-3 in the replayed final against Galway. Wally brought the McCarthy Cup to his home place.
People came from every nook and cranny of the parish, and from further afield, to be part of the celebrations. There were hundreds of children around the clubhouse in Brownstown; there were as many adults, and the ould lads were there too.
Sure why wouldn’t they? Didn’t the tousled-haired youngster provide them with one of the greatest day’s excitement ever witnessed in the club since its formation some 124 years ago? As local TD, John Paul Phelan observed: “His achievement on All Ireland final day has had, and will continue to cast great influences around our little rural parish.
He hasn’t changed
“Despite the excitement, the exposure, his record score, his media coverage, the bruhaha, the parades, the celebrations, Wally Walsh has not changed, and for a lad so young that is surprising. He went out from here a terrific, courteous, well-mannered young man, and there has been no conceivable change in his demeanour or personality since he came home from Corke Park a hero to thousands. He is such a well-grounded young fellow, that our hearts burst with pride every time his name is mentioned.
“Even when he was selected for the final, I well remember the great men that had done enormous work in our club over the years that had made all that we now have, including Wally, possible. Men like Mick Moore and my own father, Jimmy readily sprung to mind in that regard, as do families like the Cummins and the Murphy clans.”
Granny is so, so proud
There was a great roar of approval, followed by prolonged applause, as Wally came down the narrow road towards the Tullogher Rosbercon GAA clubhouse with the Liam McCarthy held proudly aloft. It was pure theatre!
Chairman Eamonn Phelan was there to welcome the returning hero, and the crowd swamped Wally with hand shaking, claps on the back, and roared approval. The Liam Mc Carthy Cup had seen many venues, but seldom has it been so rapturously welcomed than in the parish of Rosbercon, sited on the undulating slopes of the river Barrow, separating the Kilkenny and Wexford factions.
We caught up with one of the most enthralling figures associated with the Tullogher Rosbercon club, Eily Murphy. She so happens to be one of Wally’s two grannies.
I suppose the exploits of Wally in Croke Park has extended your life by a distance?
“I have 10 grandchildren, and every one of them are precious to myself and Philly,” she beamed. “But I would have to say that Wally has set a high standard for the rest of them. I was so delighted, and of course it goes without saying, that I was terribly proud that my grandson brought home the first All-Ireland senior medal as a Tullogher player to his native parish.
“It was great, but I think that poor Philly won’t come down off that cloud he is floating around on until after Christmas anyway,” she laughed.
Did you travel? Were you nervous? Did you pray? When he fired over the first point what were you thinking? So many questions, most inappropriate, but yet pertinent.
“Philly went, but the journey was too much for myself,” Eily admitted. “I sat at home in front of the telly with Jack - brother - and a few more. I didn’t miss a second of it. The winning of it, and Wally being nominated as a man-of-the-match wiped all memory of answers to your questions out of my ould head. Maybe I prayed.
“I could have been a little nervous, or not at all. When he got his first point I kinda nodded my head in proud approval. I knew then that he would be okay.”
She paid huge respect and admiration to the likes of Tommy Walsh, Henry Shefflin, Michael Fennelly and the way they helped to get Wally into the game. She also lauded team manger, Brian Cody for his courage in starting her grandson.
Did she have a little deoch by way of celebration?
“I didn’t surely, because I don’t drink,” she replied. “But I had plenty of representatives that did. Shamie and the lads didn’t let the side down. Philly (husband) didn’t get home until five in the morning, but it was all worth it.”
Sean Dowling (senior) watched the game with his wife, Mary and brother-in-law, Paddy Mackey. He was euphoric in his admiration of the young Tullogher man, and what his work will mean for hurling in Tullogher.
Paddy Murphy was there too. A noted fiddler, Paddy Murphy would not have missed the afternoon when a fellow Tullogher man came home with the Liam McCarthy. He is ninety years young. He joined up with Joe Knox and Richie Shortall to entertain the gathered hordes.
An equally proud Tom Cassin wouldn’t have missed the occasion for the world.
“Young Wally did us proud,” he smiled. “He did what hundreds of lads before him couldn’t do. I’ll die a happy man.”
It was a tremendous personal pleasure for me to meet a superb GAA man, Ollie Ryan. I remember well the efforts and dedication of many Irish emigrants to sow the seed of the GAA in foreign lands. Ollie Ryan was one of the best in that regard as he laboured hard in Manchester in tough times.
“If we could pick any man to represent our little club, we could not have found a better representative than Wally. I cried with pleasure,” he admitted. “He won a junior title for us in 2008 when he was only 17 years of age. I was involved then, and he showed great promise and tremendous qualities as a young man and a hurler. I couldn’t be more proud.”
No club could furnish a better foot soldier than Joe Conway, treasurer, and former player.
“We are thrilled, and we have been mapping his progress since he first hurled at schools level,” Joe said. “It was a massive achievement to get on the county minor team in 2008, and beating Tipp in the semi-final and winning the final was a massive achievement for a lad from our club. They don’t happen too often. Then to see him progress to the under-21 team, but to be called into the Kilkenny senior panel was mind-blowing. The end game of that progression in Croke Park in September has to rank as one of the great sports stories of 2012.
“There are lads here today, great Tullogher people of the past, who put in the hard yards when they were needed, who got out of their beds to
celebrate the occasion with their own people. Wally has re-ignited the Tullogher flame in many, and for that we are delighted.”
Philly Murphy, the other grandparent, came into our cross-hairs. He was holding court with a fine mug of tea in one hand, and a delicious chicken sandwich in the other.
Floating on a cloud
Did you ever see this day happening, Philly, we asked?
“Well, its like this Barrie,” he replied in a very considered thoughtfulness, “ he had played well as a minor, and he was very good at under-21 level, so I felt that he was going in the right direction. I didn’t think it would happen so soon. Jeez I’m floating on a cloud with pride and joy. Don’t forget that we are only one half of the deal.
“The Walsh family are equally proud, and we share their joy and pride in our grandson. It is a great day for all of the two families. I’ll never forget the whole thing until the day I die.”
Who could blame them?
Recently we featured the great work being done by the Juvenile Committee in the club. We met up with a beaming Billy McGrath, one of the core workers in that great movement.
“It is absolutely great for Wally obviously, and for the club,” Billy felt. “He is a folk hero here now, and that is so helpful, particularly when it comes to enticing youngsters into the club. No longer do they have to identify with a hero out side of the club. They now have their own home-grown product.”
Former great Jimmy Mullally greeted us, and spoke of the value to the club that Wally’s achievement will bring.
“Like a rising tide, the esteem and attraction of the club will rise together,” he pointed out, in addition to the pride he was feeling.
Other staunch Tullogher men were gathered to celebrate. John Healy and his hard-working wife, Brigid were as usual very welcoming and helpful, as was Paddy Grennan.
PRO Mark O’Brien had his hands full handing out all sorts of goodies to all of the children, organising group photographs and generally trying to put some order to the heaving chaos.
“It is a marvellous day for us, our parish, our club,” he insisted. “The entire place is floating. There is tremendous enthusiasm about the place, and we can only avail of all of the good feeling there is about the place.”
Ghosts around the place
At a function in Paddy Ryan’s hostelry in Listerlyn later in the evening, attended by Wally’s Kilkenny colleagues, Brian Hogan, Jackie Tyrrell, T.J. Reid, Cillian Buckley, Richie Doyle and Eoin Murphy, it was absolutely impossible to even get beyond the entrance door.
Suffice to say that a night of total celebration, craic and congratulations lingered long into the night.
Wally came back to his own all right, and the baggage he carried was tantamount to the Prodigal Son returning to the safety of the home port after an incident-lined adventure. One could feel the ghosts of Jimmy Cummins, Mick Moore, Murt Cassin, Denis Hogan, Jim Mackey and others swishing around the place.
As Philly Murphy said: “Sure a day like this would bring you back if you hadn’t gone too far.”
You got it in one Philly!