Davy Walsh was the first Catholic to play for Linfield, in the 1940s, before moving to West Brom, writes Michael Moynihan
Davy Walsh, who passed away on March 14 last, was one of the Irish soccer players who lined out for both Ireland teams, north and south of the border, but the Waterford native enjoyed a long and successful career as a natural goalscorer in the old English First Division.
Matt Keane, doyen of Waterford soccer historians, sketches Walsh’s background in the southeast.
“He was born in Barrack St — next door to John Keane, the great Waterford hurler — and played for St Joseph’s in Waterford. He was the first Catholic to play for Linfield, and then he went across the water.”
The devil is in the detail. Walsh carved out a magnificent career in top flight soccer, having begun with Limerick in 1942, making his debut against St James Gate on October 4 1942: promisingly, he scored two goals in that match, but only added four more that season.
He hit 122 goals for Linfield in total, including 73 in the 1945-46 season, winning the Irish Cup in 1945 and the double in 1946.
In an era which clearly took a relaxed view of ‘tapping up’, Walsh’s arrival at Linfield was facilitated by the direct approach taken by Tommy Breen of the Belfast club.
Malcolm Brodie recounted the story in a Linfield club history: “After an inter-City game, Breen marched into the Shelbourne dressing room and asked Walsh bluntly. ‘Would you like to play for Linfield ?’
“‘I agreed immediately,’ said Walsh. ‘I was never happier in my life than at Windsor. With Linfield I was treated very well by everyone. It is a great club with a great tradition. I was proud to play for them.’
“Walsh made a somewhat indifferent start. In the first season he broke his collar-bone. The next year saw only a slight form improvement and the management committee contemplated letting him go.
“This information leaked and when (Belfast) Celtic centre-half Jackie Vernon heard it, he said ‘If they don’t fix him up, then Celtic will.’”
Needless to say, Walsh remained at Linfield, exploding on to the scene to become one of Ireland’s best centre-forwards of the post-war era. In the 1945-46 season he hit 73 goals for Linfield.
In May 1946 he made the big move, joining West Bromwich Albion. It wasn’t a case of a wide-eyed innocent signing as soon as he saw a contract, however.
The scout and director West Brom sent to Belfast met a confident athlete who knew his worth, and negotiations continued until Walsh was happy with his terms, and a fee of £3,500 fixed.
The delay in arranging his signature had no effect on his accuracy, and he subsequently made a superb start to his English League career by scoring in each of his first six games.
It wasn’t all plain sailing in England, though.
The Waterford native’s meteoric start was almost undone because of his sensitivity to the atmosphere.
“Davy suffered from wicked nosebleeds when he went over to England first to play for West Brom,” says Matt Keane. “It was so bad that he was going to come home.
“But when the club looked into it, they discovered that the nosebleeds were a reaction to the chemicals in the air where he was living; it was a very industrialised area, lots of factories.
“The club moved him out to a little village, called Droitwich, away from all the industry, and he never looked back. He lived there from then on until he retired, actually.”
Walsh was a key figure for the Baggies when they won promotion in 1949 and in his time, he hit 100 goals for the club. He was honest enough to admit that he could have sent the side up to Division One as champions, but for once, his eye for goal let him down.
“Getting promoted was great,” he remembered in later life.
“But we should have gone up as champions. I missed four open goals at Grimsby on the last day of the season and if we’d won that, we’d have finished top.
“I’ve never known anything like it because I was usually so sharp around the goals and the blokes were going to kill me!
“Saying that, we’d already got promoted and we had a right few jars on the Thursday night after we’d beaten Leicester to win promotion, so we probably weren’t at our best on the Saturday.”
Aston Villa then signed him for £25,000 in December 1950 and he made 114 appearances for them; his total of 40 goals averages to one every three games.
In July 1955, he moved to Walsall for one season and then signed for Worcester City, where he retired in 1957.
Walsh was also a dual international, playing for both Ireland teams, the FAI XI and the IFA XI, the highlight of his international career being the famous FAI win over England in Goodison Park in 1949 — the first side ever to defeat England on their own soil.
Before that, he lined out three times for the Northern Ireland League, scoring two goals; 11 times for the IFA team between 1946 to 1950, scoring seven goals; and 20 times for the FAI side, scoring five goals.
The Waterford native went on the record to pick out his favourite international game - for the IFA in 1947 — at Goodison Park, again — when the Northern Ireland side drew 2-2 with England.
Inevitably, he found the net that evening as well.
In later life, Walsh and his wife ran holiday homes in Devon, but he always stayed in touch with his native Waterford.
“He came home every few years,” says Keane.
“Back in 2003, he was honoured by the then mayor, Oliver Cleary, along with other lads who’d played for Ireland — the likes of Alfie Hale, and Jim Beglin.
“Around 2007, he came back again, and when he did, he’d drop up to Alfie’s pub for a pint, always. The younger generation wouldn’t know him, obviously, he retired from playing almost 60 years ago. But he was hugely successful, a modest, friendly man, and very fresh for his age. A legend, really.”
Davy Walsh died on March 14, aged 92.
Premier League Player of the season
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