The late Noel Walsh has been described as "the most progressive man to ever hold senior office in the GAA”.
The 84-year old Miltown-Malbay native passed away following a Covid-19 related illness.
Walsh was a leading campaigner to have Croke Park opened up to other sports - an ambition that was realised following the historic decision taken at GAA Congress in 2005 to amend Rule 42.
As recently as 2015, Walsh brought a motion to Congress, through his club St Joseph’s Miltown-Malbay, to extend this right to all county grounds. His proposal failed, however, to receive sufficient support.
The deceased held the role of Clare senior football manager on three separate occasions and also gave 20 years service as a selector. It was the latter position he occupied when the county landed a famous Munster final win over Kerry in 1992.
John Maughan, Banner manager on that fateful afternoon at the Gaelic Grounds 28 years ago, yesterday said Walsh possessed an unrivalled “passion and love” for the GAA. He also lauded Walsh’s crusading spirit in bringing about an open draw in the Munster SFC ahead of the 1991 season.
“He deserves enormous credit for battling to have an open draw, which culminated in a glorious day in 1992 with Munster success,” said Maughan.
“His good nature and insight meant that all who met him remembered him and, indeed, he was one of the first people I saw with a mobile phone.”
Away from the playing field, Walsh took up the position of Munster Council vice-chairman the same year as Clare tasted a rare Munster football final win, rising to Munster chairman in 1995.
Walsh twice stood for the position of GAA president. He was unsuccessful on both occasions, but was appointed a trustee of the association in 2000.
He chaired a number of Croke Park committees around that time, including the coaching and games development committee, the amateur status committee, the provincial football development committee, and the national football development committee.
As well as advocating for an open draw in Munster and the playing of non-GAA sports at Croke Park, Walsh spearheaded a pilot project during his tenure as Munster chairman which saw floodlights installed at various venues throughout the province.
“He brought the GAA forward in their thinking every time he got a chance,” said former Clare county board chairman Michael McDonagh, a Miltown-Malbay clubmate of Walsh.
“He was a pioneer. He was ahead of his time. He was the most progressive man to ever hold senior office in the GAA. I would equate himself and Seán Kelly together.
“He was extremely highly thought of and wasn’’t afraid to come up with new, forward-thinking ideas. And no matter how they were received, he’’d always keep them boiling until they were adopted by the association.”
McDonagh added: “His pride and joy was winning the Munster final in 1992, that was one of his crowning moments. He loved Miltown St Joseph’’s. He was our county board delegate right up to the end. As a parish, we were always very proud of him and what he achieved.”
Clare GAA chairman Joe Cooney said Walsh, who rose to colonel rank during his time in the army, was a “leading light in the county of Clare for over five decades”.
“Noel’’s innovative thoughts, allied to a strong determination that equality for all was always to the fore, led him to be one of the most respected administrators in the association,” Cooney continued.
Remarked Munster Council chairman Liam Lenihan: "He was a very genuine supporter and one of the people who made the GAA what it is, a community-based worldwide organisation that gives people a sense of pride in their own place."
Noel Walsh, who won two Clare SFC medals as a player, is survived by his wife Ursula, son Carl, and daughters Lisa and Noelle.