Mount Sion ‘was everything to Frankie’

You go up the stairs to the bar in the Mount Sion clubhouse, turn at the landing, and you face a large photograph by the doors at the top.

Frankie Walsh with the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

“There’s a lot of photographs of Frankie here,” said Pádraic Fanning yesterday. From a family steeped in the Waterford city club, Fanning was one of the many mourners at Walsh’s funeral.

“He’s really part of our history. He played a huge part in our victories, in what we became as a club, really. Everything good about our club, Frankie epitomised it. The club was everything to him.”

Fanning pointed to Walsh’s presence in the club only a couple of weeks before he died: “That was his routine – he was always around, always there to give lads advice, even small kids who wouldn’t really have known about him or what he’d achieved.

“He was like that with everybody. He mixed with everybody, and they all looked up to him, and even those small kids knew him.”

Walsh’s fame in the GAA community at large rested to a large degree on the annus mirabilis in Waterford’s hurling history, 1959, when beating Kilkenny in an All-Ireland final replay became the pinnacle for the men in white and blue.

But it was fitting to remember him also in the Mount Sion clubhouse yesterday. As a boy in the Christian Brothers secondary school of the same name he won a Harty Cup medal in 1953. He added a round dozen county senior titles with the club in the ensuing two decades.

In the days before provincial or national club championships, the club tournaments of the late 50s and early 60s were another battleground where Walsh shone. At yesterday’s funeral ceremony some of them were recalled: the Dunhill suit-lengths tournament. The Cork churches tournament. Those games were as keenly contested as any by the clubs involved stellar outfits such as St Vincent’s of Dublin, Thurles Sarsfields, Glen Rovers of Cork. The Mount Sion side Walsh starred for looked them all in the eye as equals.

After Waterford, Walsh lived for his club.

“In 1991 I was captain of Mount Sion, and he was the manager, and he was fantastic,” said Shane Aherne.

“He’d show you how to do certain things on the field, he was always straight with people – you always knew where you were with him, there were no grey areas.

“Back in 1991 he wouldn’t have been a young man but he got involved because we needed someone good, we needed someone strong, and because it was Mount Sion there was no way he wouldn’t pitch in. We didn’t win the championship that year, but we all learned a lot from being in a dressing room with Frankie Walsh.

“He was a huge hurling man, Waterford and Mount Sion, but in latter years he put in huge work in Mount Sion. That was his focus. He was a leader – he led by example the whole time, and he didn’t believe in standing back and letting others do the work – he pitched in and worked as hard and tried to get things right.”

As for the long reign commemorated by that photograph on the clubhouse steps, Aherne and Fanning agree on one point. Walsh was always keen to have another player become the most recent All-Ireland-winning captain in Waterford.

“He was always hoping someone would take that monkey off his back,” says Aherne. “He certainly wouldn’t have been one of these fellas who just wanted that glory for himself.

“Maybe with his passing someone will step in, but he’d have liked to see someone do it in his own lifetime.”

Fanning concurs.

“For him it was always about Waterford and Mount Sion, but it wasn’t about him – he wanted Waterford to win all the time, and he wanted that All-Ireland famine to end.

“You’d hope so, that it might inspire some young lads to drive on and take over. Because with Frankie gone, now there’s no living senior All-Ireland captain in the county.”

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