March 31, 2000
Seanie Walsh (extreme right back row) on the Kerry team that collected the county's 25th All Ireland in 1979
The original super sub
Seanie Walsh was an integral part of the GAA's greatest ever team. Whether he was holding the fort at midfield or minding the house in the heart of the defence, the Tralee man was soundness personified as Kerry made the national game look ridiculously easy circa 1978-86. He helped himself to eleven All-Ireland medals - including seven seniors - as the Kingdom turned all logic on its head and completely rewrote the record books.
What can you say about a man who has achieved as much as Seanie Walsh? Adjectives have been over-employed and taken out of context so frequently in this magazine that they have been rendered useless . . . best just to let the facts speak for themselves.
Seanie Walsh (extreme right, back row) on the Kerry team that collected the countyÕs 25th All-Ireland in 1979
In 1975, Kerry won the minor, U21 and senior All-Irelands. Seanie was at midfield for the first of those two successes but didn't become a regular on the senior team until later that year. The Kingdom defeated Tyrone by 1-10 to 0-4 in the '75 minor decider and beat Dublin 1-15 to 0-10 in the U21 final.
The Kerry U21 side of that era was virtually untouchable (read Charlie Nelligan, Paidi O Se, Mick Spillane, Ogie Moran, Sean Walsh, Jack O'Shea, Pat Spillane, Barry Walsh) as they swept to three successive All-Irelands, following up the 1975 breakthrough by effortlessly beating Kildare on a scoreline of 0-14 to 1-3 and Down by 1-11 to 1-5 in the '76 and '77 finals respectively. The 1976 U21 final was the first All-Ireland decider to feature the famous Seanie Walsh/Jack O'Shea midfield axis (Seanie was centre forward in '77).
Walsh was still underage in 1978 when Kerry reached their fourth successive final but were beaten narrowly this time by Roscommon (1-9 to 1-8). Copious consolation was gained when Dublin were thwarted in that year's senior All-Ireland final and Seanie Walsh did set the record straight by recording an historic four-in-a-row at senior level, 1978-81.
He partnered Jack O'Shea at the centre of the field in all four finals, against Dublin (twice), Roscommon and Offaly. Then that dramatic late Seamus Darby goal stopped the great Kingdom machine in its tracks in the 1982 decider, with Mick O'Dwyer's team seemingly on the cusp of the elusive five-in-a-row.
Kerry returned with a bang in 1984 and, with Seanie now moved to full back, went on to win three more All-Irelands in as many years as the most amazing team since the birth of the Association brought its haul to an incredible seven All-Irelands in nine years.
A hip injury put an end to Seanie Walsh's career in 1987. His departure from the scene coincided with the beginning of Kerry's ten-year famine [a 'famine' by Kerry standards only].
Seanie played his club football with Kerins O'Rahillys, based on the Dingle side of Tralee town. Demographics saw to it that his club career wasn't as prolific as his intercounty one. "We were weak at the time as the population was small on that side of town but it has developed a lot over the past 15 years," he says.
"There are three senior clubs in Tralee - John Mitchells, Austin Stacks and Kerins O'Rahillys - and then you have two junior teams, Na Gaeil and St Pat's. Even though it's an 'open town', people tend to choose their club in accordance with where they live - and that's what I did."
In neighbouring Cork, Seanie also played senior championship football. He studied Dairying and Food Science at UCC and represented College in both Sigerson and championship for four years. The Kerry great reflects: "I actually went to UCD first but Dr Paddy Fitzgerald, who was involved in football there, convinced me to go to UCC, where my cousin, Dan Kavanagh, was also studying. We never won a Sigerson or a Cork championship but we had a very good team and I really enjoyed playing alongside great players like Gene Desmond and Tom Creedon from Cork."
Seanie lined out at either midfield or full forward with UCC. They never made the latter stages of the championship during his years but invariably reached the Sigerson semi-final. Of course, being at college in Cork rather than Dublin proved a big help to his intercounty prospects. And, soon he was to play alongside Cork men again - Jimmy Barry Murphy, Dinny Allen, Billy Morgan et al - in the colours of Munster.
Even at this early stage in its development, Sean Walsh's ability on the football field was well documented. That he would one day be a 'Great of the Game' was never in doubt to anybody fortunate enough to witness the budding young star in action. The Kingdom's underage selectors concurred with the general consensus of opinion, giving him three years as a county minor and five as a county U21!
That U21 team was the basis of the new blood that was to seep into the senior side and change the face of gaelic football forever.
Seanie feels privileged to have been part of something so special and contends that it would be extremely difficult for any team - regardless of their brilliance - to win seven All-Irelands in the current climate: "The standard has really evened out and it has become very hard for any team to win even one All-Ireland. In our time, there were only a few counties who were professional about the whole thing and took it seriously - Cork, Roscommon, Dublin, Offaly and ourselves - but now every county prepares meticulously and their levels of fitness are almost equal.
"We were very lucky that band of players came along at the same time . . . there were even a lot of excellent players who couldn't get into the county team. Nineteen or 20 players of that era came together and Mick O'Dwyer was a huge influence on our destinies. He kept the team together and maintained our discipline.
"That team would have won one or two All-Irelands, but after that it would have been hard to keep our feet on the ground. Micko did that for us. He kept us keen and hungry. He drove us on to greater heights than we would have dreamed.
"It wasn't just Kerry who brought the game on. That was a great Dublin team too and we brought the best out of each other. Dublin had a lot to do with bringing football to new levels."
How does Seanie survey the football landscape today? "It has become big television. Hurling has advanced a lot as a spectator sport and is very difficult to compete with. In football, you need the big centres of population - Dublin, Cork, Galway and Derry - doing well, because that brings a more colourful support.
"Also, there's such an emphasis on fitness today whereas in my day the whole emphasis was on playing the ball. There's a lot of pulling and dragging now and the fact that there's no defined tackle is a big problem."
Which of Seanie's eleven All-Ireland triumphs tasted the sweetest? "I'd have to say the first two seniors in 1978 and '79. Both finals were against Dublin and winning them meant an awful lot to the players. I had played in 1976 when Dublin beat us in the final and again in '77 when they beat us in the semi-final. To beat them in '78 was a really big one and then to confirm our superiority by doing it again the following year was just unbelievable."
Seanie Walsh was the most unselfish of players. When he played at midfield, he tended to sacrifice his own game, staying around the middle of the pitch while the other midfielder went on runs and availed of the opportunity to look classy. His ball-winning skills were outrageous and his selflessness contributed greatly to creating the legend that is Jack O'Shea. "We had a good understanding and I enjoyed every minute of playing alongside him. We complemented each other very well - he roamed and I just stayed."
These days, Seanie - along with Michael O'Sullivan - runs an auctioneering business in Tralee. Walsh O'Sullivan has been conducting business since 1983. Seanie is married to Cork woman Bernadette and the pair have four children . . . children who probably grew up thinking All-Ireland medals are as common as squeakie duckies.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
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