The big interview: Youghal's Willie Walsh was an unsung hero for the Cork hurlers

The big interview: Youghal's Willie Walsh was an unsung hero for the Cork hurlers
Cork's Willie Walsh (far left) and Eddie O'Brien (15) pile on the pressure during the 1970 All-Ireland hurling final, which Cork won 6-21 to 5-10.

FLICK through the pages of Cork’s hurling history and you will find a long list of great players who wore the red jersey with distinction.

Some were more decorated than others, some had longer careers than others, but that did not diminish their contribution.

A long list of clubs, too, contributed players to the cause, Youghal being one of them.

Noel Gallagher was a Youghal player who starred for Cork, followed by Paddy Hegarty, Willie Walsh, and Seanie O’Leary.

There were others, too: Frankie Keane and Daithí Cooney wore the jersey at a time when Youghal hurling was very strong.

Willie Walsh did not have a long career in the red jersey, but his impact was immense. He was regarded as one of the best centre-forwards of his era.

He was an old-fashioned centre-forward, a fearless player, who, as they say, would go through a brick wall for you.

He was a key figure in the All-Ireland hurling victory of 1970 when Cork defeated Wexford on a memorable September Sunday in Croke Park, a Cork team that was led by Paddy Barry, of St Vincent’s.

Walsh has great memories of his time with Cork, the great battles he had with Tipperary and Kilkenny defenders and the friendships that have endured to this day.

When he spoke to the Echo, he recalled those times.

“Yes, I didn’t have as long a career as others with Cork, but I was fortunate enough to play with, and against, some great players,” Walsh says.

“I started hurling with Youghal at U14 level and played at every level with them. We had some very good players in Youghal in those days: Paddy Hegarty, Robbie and Dan Sullivan, the Ryans (Billy and John), Frank Keane, Noel Hogan, Seanie Leary, of course.

“I got on the Cork minors in 1966 and we lost the All-Ireland final to Wexford, after a replay, and progressed on to the senior team and, obviously, the 1970 victory over Wexford was a real highlight,” Walsh says.

“There were strong teams around then. Wexford were one of them, with players like Tony Doran and Dan Quigley.

“Dan was a tough defender: hard as nails. They were a great GAA family from Rathnure. I was marking Dan in that 1970 final, I think, and it was the first time the final was played over 80 minutes.”

Walsh has particularly fond memories of playing against Tipperary, a team that contained some of the greatest players of all time.

“Yes, no doubt about that. You had one of the great centre-backs of all time, Mick Roche, on that team.

“He was, without doubt, the best defender I ever came up against. Mick was actually a cousin of mine (my mother was from Bansha), but he was some hurler I can tell you,” Walsh says. “There was Noel O’Dwyer, as well (another great hurler), and, from Kilkenny, you had Pat Henderson.

“Iggy Clarke, from Galway, was another very good player; very stylish,” Walsh says.

A player he recalls as being one of the best of them all was Jimmy Doyle, with whom Walsh forged a great friendship, until Doyle’s passing some years ago.

“Jimmy was one of the true greats, a gentleman on and off the field, someone who became one of my great friends afterwards,” Walsh says.

“Jimmy had everything: craft, skill, everything that was required. It was a privilege to play with him, when we played with Munster, and against him.”

Gerald McCarthy was one of the greatest hurlers to ever pull on the Cork jersey according to Willie Walsh.
Gerald McCarthy was one of the greatest hurlers to ever pull on the Cork jersey according to Willie Walsh.

And of the great Cork players that he lined up alongside, Walsh says: “Gerald (McCarthy) has to be right at the top, Paddy Hegarty, Paddy Fitz’, from Midleton, Paddy Barry, and, of course, Justin.

“Justin was one of the most skilful players I ever saw. He had that accident in 1969, which really curtailed his career, but he was one of the best.

“As a coach, too, he was very good, I would say that he was away ahead of his time. He was a real student of the game: he just loved hurling, as he does to this day,” Walsh says.

“You had Tony Maher, too, another tough defender; a great player too. There were so many,” Walsh says.

And the times with Munster in the Railway Cup?

“We got a trip to America out of that in 1970. That was great. I remember rooming over there with Noel O’Dwyer, and myself, himself, John O’Donoghue, and Jimmy Doyle would puck around together when we were there: a great time.”

Now long retired, Willie Walsh still has a great passion for the game.

“I would have, although, I don’t go to that many matches. I’d still follow Youghal and, hopefully, they’ll climb up the ladder again.

“Look, I enjoyed my hurling days with Youghal, with Cork, and the Munster team back then. Hurling, I know, has changed a lot,” Walsh says.

“It was a lot more direct in our time. Now, there’s so much passing, it might take five or six passes to get the ball 100 yards, but that’s the way it is.

“In my days, the coaches we had — Jim Regan, Willie John Daly — they’d have a different outlook, but, at the end of the day, I will remember the friends that I made, people like Jimmy Doyle and the rest.

“We hurled hard against each other and there was no quarter asked or given,” Walsh says.

No doubt, Willie Walsh was one of the greats.

I got on the Cork minors in 1966...and progressed to the senior team and the 1970 All Ireland victory over Wexford was a reaL

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