Handball legend Michael ‘Ducksie’ Walsh dies, aged 50
The GAA handball world is in mourning after the passing of one of the sport’s greats
The handball world is reeling today following the death of the sport’s greatest icon, Kilkenny legend Michael ‘Ducksie’ Walsh. Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
The handball world is reeling today following the death of the sport’s greatest icon, Kilkenny legend Michael ‘Ducksie’ Walsh.
Walsh, who turned 50 this year, was the most decorated handballer of all time. He fell ill on the way home from a senior doubles tournament in Cavan last Saturday and passed away on Thursday after his condition deteriorated badly on Tuesday morning.
Poignantly, Ducksie (often misspelled as ‘Duxie’) was on top of his game to the end. Just a fortnight ago, in the inaugural Irish 60x30 Singles Nationals in his home court of Talbot’s Inch, Walsh defeated number one-ranked Eoin Kennedy of Dublin in the final of the Open Singles.
It was a result that stunned the handball fraternity. There had been great players who had continued to excel long past the point where logic says their powers should have waned but there had never been one like Walsh, who competed in the All-Ireland doubles final as recently as last year.
When the latest Irish 60x30 rankings were released in recent days, Walsh was number two.
He took up the game as a nine-year-old on the outdoor, corporation courts beside St Canice’s Church in Kilkenny City. Local rules dictated that winners stayed on.
“I’d be there all day Sunday and I’d come home with a good few bob,” he stated in an interview some years ago.
Soon, his legend began to grow. Whispers reached the various handball hotbeds of this precocious alley cat, under the tutelage of famed coach and local schoolteacher Tommy O’Brien. He hoovered up underage All-Irelands and in 1984, won minor and junior grades and reached the 60x30 Senior Singles semi-final at a time when the draw was stacked with talent.
The following year, at 19, he became the youngest ever ‘big alley’ Senior Singles champion. He would go unbeaten for 13 years before finally losing a final and then returning to win three more. In doubles, usually with Eugene Downey or hurling star DJ Carey riding shotgun, he won every honour in the game and he finished with 38 senior All-Ireland medals, countless American titles as well as a handful of world medals.
But it was the post-script to Walsh’s astonishing run of senior wins that proved most extraordinary. As the years went on, he grew dependent on alcohol to get by until one morning in 2001, he awoke with cuts and bruises on his face and no memory of how he got them.
He checked into the Aiséirí Treatment Centre in Tipperary and turned his life around. From then until his untimely passing, he was sober and he raised in excess of €100,000 for charity from various events.
Walsh’s mother Vera, who passed away earlier this year, held on to his hundreds of medals and trophies for him.
“I don’t keep anything. I wouldn’t have any means on them. They wouldn’t mean a whole lot to me. Only to win would be the thing,” he once said.
Tributes for Walsh have poured in. GAA Handball National Manager John Kelly described him as “one in a million, a tremendous competitor, a sportsman par excellence and an iconic figure whose loss has left the entire handball community numb with grief.”