July 26, 1991
Donegal's big keeper Gary Walsh A foot in both camps.
By Michael Daly
Sports Editor Donegal Democrat & North West Radio
Isolated and almost alone, the goalkeeper is a special breed. For Donegal, the man between the posts off and on since 1982 has been Gary Walsh, a quiet spoken Accountant who makes his home and his living in the County his Donegal team will play in Sunday's Ulster Senior football final.
A former Minister of the Word in his native Ballyshannon, he may be quiet off the field but on it he's the proverbial pain in the neck ask his defenders.
Gary likes to let his full and half backs know he's there, always shouting at them to cover off, telling them where exactly their man is. He's a big man, 6'3" 14 stone, boy can he roar
So how does a quiet spoken Minister of the Word In Ballyshannon end up doing the accounts for Larry Goodman in a meat factory in Newry? And how will the Down folk react to this intruder in their midst? And what about his in-laws? His wife Fiona is from Burren, a football mad enclave that has produced All-lreland Club champions in recent years, how do they feel about this Donegal fellow plotting to spoil their Ulster final party?
Starting with the in-laws, they don't appear to be a problem. Gary's father-in-law, Sean, has been a tremendous practical support to Gary. He accompanies Gary on most of his mid~week journeys from Newry to training in Ballybofey and usually either drives to or from Newry to give the big fellow a bit of a rest.
At present the travelling schedule is arduous. Donegal boss, Brian McEniff, has been squeezing in as many as four sessions per week and Gary has been on the road with Sean to all hours, morning and night making the 200 mile round trip to Donegal from his new home in the beautiful village of Warrenpoint, near Newry.
However, when you consider Gary's answer when I asked him what the reaction of his inlaws might be to Donegal playing their native Down you'll agree with me when I say that could become out-laws very soon. Will Gary be getting any more dinners after this answer: "I'm really looking forward to playing Down and the fact that.
"I'm married to a Down woman gives me all the more reason to want to beat Down. Yes, I'd enjoy that".
He may be quiet, but his sense of fun is never far from bubbling to the top. Recently in reply to a long winded question from a BBC interviewer who presumed he must be doing an awful lot of training he gave the unexpected reply: "No, and I'm not that fit either.' The interviewer was left dumbstruck, Gary enjoyed the moment.
But there's a serious side to everyone and football in Donegal is taken more seriously than politics, than life. Gary knows about pressure. Being the last line of defence adds its own special pressure. Generally speaking a defender can let a ball drop and get away with the mistake and read in the following day's paper how he played well.
Gary Walsh made an error in an important match in 1988. It was a National League quarterfinal match in Omagh. Monaghan goaled from the fumble, the tabloids had a field day. Even if he didn't buy The Star that miserable Monday morning he couldn't have missed their "Gary's clanger" headline when he went to work the next morning in Newry.... His thoughtful workmates displayed a copy on a noticeboard at the plant. As they say there's nothing like sympathy and that was nothing like sympathy but he's used to that and predicts the slagging will intensify in the ABF plant as the big day arrives.
"You get used to the pressure of being the stop gap. If I fail to hold the ball it's in the net, that's life. I wouldn't want to play anywhere else, I always wanted to be a goalkeeper," he says.
Gary, who studied accountancy at Sligo Regional Technical College, distinguished himself while there both academically and on the sporting fields of Ireland. He captained Sligo RTC to two Trench Cup successes and graduated with honours, taking up his first appointment in the picturesque Leitrim village of Dromod.
From there he commuted to Donegal for training, and when the career opportunity beckoned in April. 1989, he moved to Newry where Larry Goodman had a vacancy for a Plant Accountant.
Shortly after his arrival in Newry he started to train with Newry Shamrocks. An approach to join them was acknowledged and politely refused, whatever about County he remains just as loyal to his Ballyshannon club, Aodh Ruadh, with whom he has won U-12, 16, 18, 21 and SFC honours. When Brian McEniff doesn't require his services Gary is just as willing to travel for Aodh Ruadh, very often travelling a further 100 miles within Donegal for club football such is the topography of the county.
Last year he trained alone and this year he trains with Burren a team who have slipped a little in recent times but a team he believes will regain their status in Down and Ulster.
Socially - with his football commitments is there much time for anything else? - he doesn't come across the Down players. However, he does know a number of them through inter-provincial football and preparation for the Australian composite rules series.
While most observers have described Down as Donegal's bogey team Gary dismisses that notion.
Referring to the Ulster Championship he points out that their most recent meeting is all of seven years ago.
"Down won on that occasion by a mere point, 2-8 to 1-10, but don't forget that we beat them the year before by four points, 2-12 to 2-8. OK our league form against them hasn't been hectic but we are more confident now than ever. This is our third Ulster final and after ail we did beat them in our most recent meeting in the Dr. McKenna Cup so I don't have much time for this bogey team thing. Derry were supposed to be Down's bogey team and they got over them on Sunday week in the replay. The championship is the key and if you go back to the '85 and '86 you'll see there's nothing between us and don't forget we still have nine of the players involved then, including myself, still playing," he said.
Be that as it may he still has a lot of respect for his opponents. "You know when you talk to players in these type of interviews they give you the 'it'll be a tough game but we should win it' answer and I always find that a bit cliched but now that you ask me that's basically what I think about Down. It will be a tough, hard-hitting game, we're both capable of dishing it out and taking stick if and when we have to.
"Against Derry they hunted in packs, closed people down. We like to build it from the back, they'll make it difficult for us but we're still going in there as favourites and why not. We're the most consistent team in Ulster now, we have a lot of experience and we have the potential.
"On the day I suppose there are imponderables you can't bargain for but, barring a major disaster early in the game I feel we will win this final," he said.
And what about his own record? Gary hasn't conceded a goal in the Northern championship since the Ulster final replay in 1989 against Tyrone. It's a remarkable record and one which has been kept thanks to some remarkable point-blank and reflex saves.
Perhaps one of his best saves in a major competition went somewhat unnoticed last August. He stopped a penalty from the highly accurate Meath full forward, Brian Stafford. It kept the semi-final score down to an eight point defeat, it kept a remarkable record intact also.
I guess saving penalties is something you come to expect from Donegal goalkeepers, maybe that's why it went without much notice.
If you're anywhere near the Gary Walsh goals on
Sunday and you hear the big fellow roar, don't get frightened, the Donegal lads are used to it!
Taken from Hogan Stand
26th July 1991
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