Hurling mourns Ollie Walsh

 

THE world of hurling was in mourning yesterday as news of Ollie Walsh's death, on Saturday evening, spread. One of the greatest names in the history of Kilkenny hurling, he passed away after being suddenly taken ill at home. He was 58.

Remembered as a goalkeeper of enormous charisma, he enjoyed a long and fruitful inter-county involvement as a player which brought him five senior All-Ireland medals in three decades - 1957, `63, `67, `69 and `72.

In the last year, having finally given way to his long-time understudy, Noel Skehan, he was still available to sit on the bench at the end of a distinguished career which also included two National League medals (1962 and `66) and four Railway Cup medals (1962, `64, `65 and `67).

He later turned his hand to management with remarkable success. Involved with minor and under-21 teams, he also took four Kilkenny teams to All-Ireland junior titles before taking charge of the seniors in 1990.

Within a year he had brought Kilkenny to the All-Ireland final where they narrowly lost to Tipperary. Titles followed in 1992 and `93 and only last May, he took the county to League success against Clare. After the defeat by Offaly in last year's Leinster final he stepped down. He had been five years in charge.

Until the end, he maintained his involvement which stretched back to winning a 1947 county medal with an under-14 schools team from his native Thomastown. Yesterday he was due at Nowlan Park to survey the Leinster Vocational Schools final between Ballyhale and Mooncoin as he had agreed to help out with Kilkenny's inter-county VS team.

He had been unwell in recent years with prolonged and painful bouts of arthritis which interfered with his other great sporting interest, golf, but he had spent the afternoon of the day he died playing a round at Mount Juliet.

His death is a further grievous blow to Kilkenny hurling after the equally sudden death of Ted Carroll, county secretary and former All-Ireland winner, just before Christmas. Another colleague from the 1963 All-Ireland team, Jim `Link' Walsh, is also deceased.

The current Kilkenny manager and former county chairman, Nicky Brennan, who served as a selector with Walsh for the All-Ireland wins of 1992 and `93 gave his reaction.

"All through my lifetime, on the radio commentaries of Micheal O'Hehir and Liam Campbell, Ollie Walsh seemed always to have been there. He was one of the gods of hurling when I was growing up. I got to know him personally when we were involved with the senior team. He was a very decent fella and could bring the best out of his players.

"Firstly, he could do the serious stuff motivating the players, because he had achieved so much himself and secondly, he was great to crack a joke in the tense atmosphere of a dressing-room before a big occasion and that was often equally important."

On a sunny afternoon at Belfield where the Fitzgibbon Cup final was being staged, GAA president Jack Boothman expressed his sorrow: "I was looking through the programme and saw the tribute to Ted Carroll and it was then that the news about Ollie really hit me, that I fully realised it," he said.

Babs Keating of Tipperary played two All-Ireland finals against Ollie Walsh and renewed that rivalry when both men managed their respective counties in the 1991 All-Ireland final.

"I've always made the point that he was the best keeper I ever saw. Not alone did he stop a ball but he'd take it out to the 21 and put his team attacking. We lost the `67 final to Kilkenny but it was Ollie on his own that beat us that day. He was unreal. He saved two from me that would have been goals under normal circumstances and two more from (Donie) Nealon.

"He had great ability and was a strong man. He would go straight out to the 21 and have the ball at the other end in 10 strides."

Mick Maher, four times an All-Ireland medallist in the 1960s and full back on the Tipperary team which defeated Walsh's Kilkenny in the 1964 final, paid this tribute: "He was colourful, flamboyant, a brilliant player. I always remember Kilkenny as being hard to beat even when under-strength and when Ollie was in good form, they were three times as hard to beat. It was a great shock to hear of his death.

Ollie Walsh is survived by his wife Olive, sons Michael, also an All-Ireland winning goalkeeper, Billy and Oliver and one daughter, Ann Phelan. His removal will be at 5.45 this evening from St Luke's hospital to St Mary's Cathedral and requiem mass will be celebrated at 11.0 tomorrow morning.

As a mark of respect the AGM of the Kilkenny Supporters' Club, scheduled for tomorrow evening, has been postponed by a week to March 19th.