Echo Sport Replay: Walsh on his road to fulfilling All-Ireland dream with the Dubs

Echo Sport Replay: Walsh on his road to fulfilling All-Ireland dream with the Dubs

By Stephen Leonard

ON A chilly evening in Trinity Sports Ground back in early October 1994, players from the Dublin Senior Football panel met and talked amongst themselves about their intentions for the coming year.

The Blues had, just a few weeks before, suffered All-Ireland Championship Final heartbreak for the second time in as many years when they lost out by a couple of points to Down in the decider.

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St Anne’s and Dublin player Ciarán Walsh celebrates after helping the Blues to victory over Tyrone in the 1995 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final in Croke Park Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Now, with a number of figures in the squad getting on, the players aired their own individual thoughts about going again in pursuit of the county's first All-Ireland crown since 1983.

Among those more senior competitors in the group deciding on whether or not to call it a day was St Anne's player Ciarán Walsh.

The Greenhills man had already enjoyed National League and Leinster Championship success in his county’s colours, but the pain of having twice being denied a grip on the coveted Sam Maguire was immense both for him and his team mates.

There was no doubting that the quality needed to go all the way existed within that crop of players, but embarking on a new campaign brought with it the risks of more hurt for the already wounded troops of the capital.

Still Walsh and his county team mates opted to forge ahead in their bid to fulfil the ultimate dream of every Gaelic footballer, many believing that this would be their final chance of doing so.

“To be honest, that team was very close to disbanding then” admitted Walsh.

“We were kind of hitting the 29, 30 age, so youth wasn’t on our side. Now we did have younger lads like Keith Barr, Paul Curran and a few of them, but the likes of John O’Leary, Charlie Redmond, Mick Galvin and myself were kind of in that bracket of it was either now or never.

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St Anne’s man Ciarán Walsh takes a look back on his time with the Dublin Senior Football team and their journey towards All-Ireland Championship success in 1995 Photo by Paddy Barrett

“The panel had a meeting among ourselves in Trinity Sports Grounds in October and we said ‘Look lads, we’re either going to give this a lash or let’s throw somebody new in.’

“We used to train out in Trinity Sports Ground in Santry at the time and I can remember a Tuesday night coming back and it was just pure muck.

“You were just slogging in the pissing rain and the cold and you could have very easily just said to Pat [O’Neill] and the boys ‘Look, I don’t need this.’

“But in fairness, none of us threw it in. We hung on in there.

“I’m a firm believer that, had we won the All-Ireland in ’92, we could have put two or three together.

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Ciarán Walsh of Dublin goes up against Padraig Griffin of Cork in the National Football League Photo by Damien Eagers/Sportsfile

“And because we couldn’t get over that line, they were calling us ‘The Nearly Men’ and this was hurting us.

“You’d won two National Leagues and four Leinster titles on the trot and to be called the ‘The Nearly men’ just wasn’t nice.

“So ’95 was do or die. We were either going to win in ’95 or we were never going to win again” he maintained.

Certainly Walsh was a player never to shy away from a challenge and both he and his senior football team mates in his club St Anne’s more than punched above their weight for years.

A player with Greenhills Boys FC before he took up Gaelic football with the Bohernabreena club, the former St Peter’s and Drimnagh Castle student quickly began to assert himself in an underage team that was not short on success as they made their way up towards the junior and senior ranks.

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St Anne’s man Ciarán Walsh Photo by Paddy Barrett

“I happened to be involved with a very good juvenile side [in St Anne’s] that, I think went 46 matches unbeaten through the leagues” recalled Walsh.

“We won Under 12s, 13s, 14s. I think we won 15s league and we won the first juvenile championship in the club. I think we won the 16s league and cup and we got beaten in the Minor Championship Final by Erins Isle.

“Pat West was the manager and we just got a good bunch of lads together and it just happened for us.

“About four or five of us out of that team went on to play senior which is quite good for a small club, so we had our fair share of success.

“I would have been a storming midfielder, because I was bigger than the rest of the lads and my partner in midfield was a guy called Mark Keenan who became very famous through basketball.

“Mark and myself had a great understanding. We just read each other and he was such a big loss to GAA because he was such a super footballer.

“We had won the Intermediate Championship title in 1985 and that was when I was introduced to senior football.

“We had a great Under 21 team that won two leagues on the trot as well, so we had a good crop of lads coming through and, for that senior team, we had the likes of the Heaslips, the O’Neills, David Delappe and the McNallys, Joe and Nipper.

“And we also had a good junior side, so we weren’t losing lads because they had a good standard of junior football as well.

“We had got a few good runs in the Senior Football Championship and got to semi finals, but we just couldn’t get over that hurdle.

“Basically we’re a small parish club and we were knocking at the door with the top guns at the time, so to get to the Championship Final in 1987 was just a huge achievement for us.

“Now we didn’t get caught up in the fact that we were in the final. We had belief in ourselves, but we met a very good Parnells side and our problem arose in that the final was put back three or four weeks.

“We had beaten Clontarf in a replay [in the semi finals], a Clontarf side that were really fancied to go to the final.

“But the final was delayed and we kind of lost our momentum and they beat us by three of four points. I’m not denying they were the better team on the day, but I think that delay took a lot away from us.

“It’s one of my biggest regrets in football, not having a county championship medal. You’d love to trade it in for other medals that you won, but these are things we look back on and talk about, but we’re not going to lose sleep over it.

“Myself and David Delappe were the two lads from the club who made it on to the Dublin Minor panel in ’83. Alan Larkin was manager then.

“Dublin were after winning the title in ’82. Joe McNally was on the team that year.

“I didn’t get picked for the first round of the championship in ’83 and they got beaten.

“We were Minor again in ’84 and lucky enough myself and David got on to it and Joe’s father Kit McNally was a selector that year.

“Our first round match was against Offaly in Tullamore and I got the nod for left corner back and I took the chance.

“We had a superb selection of players on that team and I think we won fairly easy in the end.

“But just to get that blue jersey on and get out on the field and get a run. And so see your father in the stands looking down on you, proud as punch. It was magic. “It was a memory I’ll never forget.

“I remember Westmeath gave us a tough match in the Leinster Final and we were very lucky to get out of that. I think we won by a point in the end and got into the All-Ireland semi final where we played Derry and we beat them by five or six points.

“During the season the only team that beat us was Tipperary in Templemore. They gave us a good rattle that day and when we got to the final it was Tipperary who we met. Let’s just say we had a point to prove to them.

“The day itself was windy and wet and Dublin were playing Kerry in the Senior Final so St Anne’s had four people involved.

“We had three lads with the Minors, myself and Dave and Kit McNally as selector and then Joe McNally was involved with the seniors so it was a big day for St Anne’s.

“Unfortunately the seniors didn’t get over the line.

“In the Minor final, we were lucky the first five minutes, they could have had a goal, but we just settled down and we went in at half time winning and we finished the job off in the second half.

“I didn’t finish the match. I came off injured after about 45 minutes, but I felt I did my job and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

“It was brilliant. We had a full ‘Hill’, because obviously by the time our match was finished ‘The Hill’ and stands were nearly full because the senior match was starting 15, 20 minutes later.

“So to run down with the cup as a young lad, it was just absolutely fantastic.

“I came into the senior team around ‘1987, ’88. We went on to win a league that year in ’87, the year Cork didn’t come out for the extra time [in the quarter final].

“You’d have new management coming in and maybe you’d be dropped off the panel and then you’d get a phone call to say ‘go train with them on the Tuesday night.’ So they were bringing guys in and out.

“So my first real introduction to it was ’88 ’89. We got to the Leinster Final and we beat Meath. I was on the bench that day.

“That was my first taste of being in Croke Park with the senior team and  it was a huge occasion.

“But then the 1989/’90 League came and you were dropped. No reason, they were just refreshing the team and maybe and you didn’t fit in.

“Then Paddy Cullen and Pat O’Neill came in for 1991 and I got a phone call to say ‘go training on the Tuesday’.

“So I trained Tuesday, trained Thursday and we had a match that weekend and then I got a run all the way through to the National League Final where we beat Kildare.

“I got married the day before the National League Final. When we booked our wedding I wasn’t even on the panel, so it wasn’t a case even that I booked the wrong time, because I wasn’t even on the panel.

“So I got married on the Saturday, then into Croke Park on the Sunday and we flew away on honeymoon on the Monday. That was a big high in my career. A weekend we’ll never forget.

“After that there were highs and lows and you didn’t know whether you were coming or going.

“Donegal beat us in the 1992 All-Ireland Final which was a very hard pill to swallow.

“My first outing in ’92 was down in Tullamore when we played Offaly. Tommy Carr got injured after 20 minutes and I got the call to go in. I never got a game then after that.

“We got beaten in the final. I won’t necessarily blame the media, but I think we got sucked in by all the hype.

“And in fairness to Donegal, they came down and had their work done and took the crown home.

“Paddy Cullen was the main manager in ’92 along with Jim Brogan, Pat O’Neill and Bobby Doyle. But what happened was Paddy Cullen stepped away then so Pat O’Neill took the reins.

“So the ’92 league started and I got in for the first game and I stayed in and didn’t come out then until ’95 when we got to the Final and won.

“We won the National League again in ’93. We beat Donegal in the final after a replay.

“Donegal were after winning the All-Ireland in ’92 and they had a great bunch of lads, so they were coming down to take a scalp and, having done it the year before, they were saying ‘We can do it again.’

“But we had a great game on both occasions and it worked out for us.

“I missed the All-Ireland Final in ’94 which was hard to take. I got injured playing for St Anne’s against Erins Isle in the quarter final of the club championship just two or three weeks before the All-Ireland Final.

“I did my best to try and get back for it, but I just wasn’t fit enough to play. That was a huge disappointment.

“The new stand on the Cusack side was open and the rain just bucketed down. It never stopped for the whole day.

“Down, in fairness had a superb team. They had won the All-Ireland in ’91 and they came back in ’94.

“But we went very close. A missed penalty, had it gone in, it could have changed the game and we could have ended up winning it, but we didn’t.

“It was very tough and all the lads from the panel had a meeting in Trinity Sports Ground a few weeks later and we were saying ‘Look lads, are we going to give this another lash?’

“In fairness, we gelled together and one of the great things in ’95 was ‘Jayo’ [Jason Sherlock] coming in. He was a breath of fresh air, the media loved him, ‘The Hill’ and the supporters loved him.

“And we had another guy Keith Galvin. Keith was only 18 or 19 as well and so they were very young and they had no fear. They hadn’t witnessed losing finals.

“So they just came in and they just took some of the pressure off the older guys.

“They were just so fresh and the energy they were bringing, it was just bouncing off us. It was brilliant.

“Now unfortunately I missed the first round. I got injured. I got back for the second game against Laois and I got injured again and I couldn’t get my place back.

“I didn’t get back on to the field until the All-Ireland semi final against Cork, ten minutes into the second half when I was thrown in after Keith Galvin was taken off and I think we beat them by three or four points in the end.

“Keith had been playing well, but when it came to the final Dermot Deasy got injured and Dermot was playing full back at the time.

“They put me in at Number Two to go in on Peter Canavan at full forward. I was at full back with Paddy Moran and Keith Galvin were either side.

“Tyrone were looking for their first All-Ireland and they had a superb set-up.

“The only thing I think was we were the more hungry because we’d had too many defeats. For us it was now or never.

“But Peter Canavan was a handful to mark. I think he scored 11 of their 12 points. But I did alright that day.

“That final whistle blowing, it was an occasion you’ll never forget. I felt top of the world. There’s nothing else you can ask for.

“It was like someone had let the air out of you, because you had finally got over the line. And it was like ‘What do we do now?’ Because we had never got that far, we didn’t know what it felt like.

“Then all of a sudden you get a hug of someone and then the crowd comes on to the pitch.

“One of the first to meet me was my brother-in-law, Kevin, and he was only 13 or 14 at the time.

“And the smile on his face, because he’d witnessed the two losses we had had, he took it more to heart than even I did.

“He used to meet me when I’d come out from the dressing room under the old Hogan stand and I’d just give him the bag.

“In fact I got my first Leinster jersey against Kildare. It was raining that day and when I came out, I handed him the bag and I opened it and gave him my jersey.

“His mother and father were from Kildare and he went home and he said ‘Look at this Dad’ as he showed him the jersey.

“And his dad said ‘Jaysus, there’s an awful smell off that.’ And he said ‘Dad, that’s the smell of success.’

“But in ’95 we were up those steps to collect the cup and as it turned out, we couldn’t go back on to the pitch because the whole pitch was blocked off.

“We had to come in under the Hogan Stand and out the back of the Hogan stand was a fountain and when we came out, there was a lad sitting having a glass of orange and a cigarette.

“I smoked at the time and so myself and Vinny Murphy went up to the young lad and we said ‘Any chance we could get a cigarette off you?’

“Your man, looks at the two of us in our jerseys and kind of went ‘Holy s**t! What’s going on here?’

“He gave us the cigarette, lit them for us and we said ‘Thanks’ and we sat beside him for a minute and we then walked down as the crowd was coming out of the back of the Hogan stand.

“And they were all looking at us kind of going ‘Where are they going?’ We were heading to the dressing room.

“It was just so surreal and it’s just a story that myself and Vinny laugh at now and again.

“Today I feel privileged that I actually have an All-Ireland medal especially when you think of all the former Dublin footballers going around who don’t have one.

“Even trying to get to an All-Ireland Final from ’95 to 2011. Sixteen years of not even getting to an All-Ireland Final. That’s a huge generation of footballers who never even experienced it.

“You know, the waking up in the morning, getting the gear on, getting ready to go in for the biggest day in a footballer’s inter-county career.

“1996 wasn’t a good year. Mickey Whelan came in and myself and a few of the lads were dropped for the Leinster Final and Meath beat us.

“’97 came around and we were brought back in. Meath beat us again and, to be honest, that was it. It just fizzled out. I was 31, 32 at that stage.

“There was new management coming in. Tommy Carr was coming in and, to be honest, I was done. I just didn’t have the drive to go at it again.

“Maybe I should have, but  I’m not going to look back on it with any regret. I got what I got and I had a great run with a great bunch of lads.

“I was enjoying my club football with St Anne’s and we won the Senior League in ’96 which was absolutely brilliant.

“I think I was about 40 when I finished up. I played a bit of junior for a year, but I was having a lot of trouble with the hips. The body was telling me to give this up, so I did.

“When I look back on it all, I’m honoured, absolutely honoured to have worn the blue of St Anne’s and the blue of Dublin.

“I was in with a great bunch of guys, both in club and county, guys with different talents, different attitudes, but all aiming for the same thing. We all wanted to win.”

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