By Leo McGough
FOR 48 long years Sim Walton, a legendary Noreside hurling hero, held a notable record. He made more appearances for Kilkenny in senior championship hurling than anyone else.
Sim brought his figure to a fantastic 49 when making his farewell appearance on August 10, 1919 in that year's Leinster final. The Cats lost narrowly to Wexford.
The Tullaroan raider first lined out for Kilkenny on June 29, 1902 in Carrick-on-Suir when a side captained by the famous Dick 'Drug' Walsh, was beaten by Tipperary in the delayed 1900 All-Ireland semi-final.
While Sim Walton's first and last games ended in defeat, the Tullaroan stalwart enjoyed much success in between, collecting seven All-Ireland senior medals. He was captain of the victorious sides of 1911 and '12.
Walton was the scoring ace of his era. The man to surpass his appearances record on July 24, 1977 was another scoring sensation. It was the one and only Eddie Keher.
Like Walton, Keher made a losing debut. It was a dramatic introduction as a substitute, when still a minor, in the 1959 All-Ireland final replay. He also went out on a low note, losing to Wexford in the Leinster final.
However, the Rower-Inistiogue sharpshooter had a productive career, winning six All-Ireland medals, one as a captain in 1969.
While it took 48 years for Walton to be passed on the appearances 'roll of honour', it was only another eight before a third Kilkenny hurler made his 49th appearance. That was midfielder Frank Cummins.
The Blackrock (Cork) giant had won an All-Ireland medal as a sub the previous September. He made his debut against Offaly in the Leinster semi-final on June 23, 1968 in Portlaoise.
It was also against Offaly, on July 14, 1985 that Cummins bade farewell. Kilkenny lost a Leinster semi-final replay, and it was his goodbye.
Cummins won seven All-Ireland medals on the field, and all at midfield at that.
Then, enter stage, another Kilkenny hurling legend, one Denis Joseph Carey. Like Walton and Keher before him, D.J's debut was a disappointment, a hammering by Offaly in Croke Park in the Leinster semi-final.
Since then the Gowran maestro has enjoyed a magnificent career, winning five All-Irelands, and captaining the team to victory last season.
Already reckoned as one of the all-time greats, D.J. Carey joined the '49' gang in the All-Ireland qualifier against Dublin in Carlow.
He went level with Keher on 50 against Galway in Thurles a fortnight later.
Then on July 25 in Croke Park when fielding against Clare in the All-Ireland quarter-final, the Young Ireland's ace became Kilkenny's 'most capped' championship hurler. D.J's total now stands at 53.
Blessed with 'keepers
Kilkenny have always been blessed with alert goalkeepers. Two of the best, first cousins Ollie Walsh (Thomastown) and Noel Skehan (Bennetsbridge) feature in the 'Appearances Chart' and would you believe they are tied at 42 apiece!
Another '40-plus' man who stood between the Kilkenny posts was Paddy Phelan, once as a result of a switch from outfield, once from the start. Phelan, though, renowned as a left half back – selected there on the team of the Century – also saw action with Kilkenny in midfield and attack.
In all, 12 players have made 40 or more appearances with Kilkenny in Leinster and All-Irelan senior hurling championship fixtures.
The players, the appearances
The dazzling dozen are - 1 D.J. Carey 53; 2 Eddie Keher 50; 3 Sim Walton 49; Frank Cummins 49; 5 Jimmy Langton 43; 6 Paddy Larkin 43; 7 Paddy Phelan 42, Ollie Walsh 42, Noel Skehan 42; 10 Mattie Power 41, Jack Rochford 41; 12 Pat Henderson 40.
Completing the Kilkenny 'Top 20' are - 13 Lory Meagher 39; 14 Ger Henderson 38; 15 Jimmy Walsh 37, John Power 37; 17 Phil Larkin 35; 18 Dick Doyle 34; 19 Billy Fitzpatrick 34; 20 Peter Blanchfield 33, John Henderson 33, Bill Walsh 33, Willie O'Connor 33.