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'The greatest day of my club career' - Fifth time lucky for junior soccer legend 'Chalky' Walsh

Ireland’s record caps holder finally got his hands on the FAI Junior Cup over the weekend after losing out in four finals.

Walsh (centre) with the FAI Junior Cup last weekend.
Walsh (centre) with the FAI Junior Cup last weekend.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

AFTER THE TRULY remarkable season that he has just enjoyed, James ‘Chalky’ Walsh knows that now would be the perfect time to end his illustrious career if you were writing a script.

With St Michael’s, the club he has played for since the age 15, the Cashel native added another league title, Tipperary Cup and Munster Junior Cup to his long list of honours this year.

Despite those successes, there remained a burning hunger to earn victory in the one competition which had evaded him for so many years.

The 37-year-old is one of two members of the current St Michael’s squad (along with Paul Tobin) to have lost out in the FAI Junior Cup final on four occasions.

On Sunday, however, the Saints had the chance to put those memories behind them when they faced Limerick’s Ballynanty Rovers at the Aviva Stadium. A 20th-minute opener from David Slattery set them on their way and three more goals saw the club get their name on the trophy for the second time in its history.

“From a club perspective, it is right up there as one of the best days of my career,” he told TheScore.ie. “I tend separate the international and club memories in my mind but in terms of the club it was the greatest day of my career.

This club are the people who brought me through right the way from schoolboy and youth football.

“I knew we had a group of players that were capable of it. It was probably one of the reasons why I kept going. We just needed that little bit of luck and some momentum.

“In saying that, from a human level there was an element of doubt about whether we were ever going to get there because we had been very unlucky in previous finals.”

With two minutes on the clock, manager Jason Purcell withdrew Walsh for Tobin – the other player who had finished runner-up four times — in what was a heart-warming moment.

“It was one of the top moments of the day with the fans acknowledging the fact that I was going off and the person who had lost the other four finals as well was replacing me. It was great.”

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James Walsh celebrates with the trophy Walsh out on the Aviva Stadium pitch. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

FAI chief executive John Delaney, a former player with St Michael’s, struggled to contain his joy at the sight of his own club ending their 40-year wait and shared a hug with Walsh after the final whistle.

“John Delaney has come to the fore in the FAI over the last ten years but he has been at St Michael’s for 20 or 30 years at this stage,” explains Walsh. “We all would have known John before he was CEO of the FAI so he had endured the pain down through the years as much as we had.

“That was one of those moments where we had both acknowledged that we had finally done it — not just ourselves but as a club. That’s what the embrace signalled.”

John Delaney celebrates with Saint Michael's captain James Walsh Delaney and Walsh share a hug. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Ireland’s all-time record caps holder at junior level, Walsh hung up his international boots back in January and, after a few days celebrating, will return to the pitch this Friday night for his testimonial.

Cooke Park will welcome the meeting of Ireland’s amateur and junior teams with Walsh planning to play a half on both sides. Admission is free of charge and there will be a collection for charity on the night.

Beyond that, the veteran has yet to make any decisions on what lies ahead next season.

If you were to script it you could say to finish by winning the FAI Junior Cup in the Aviva Stadium, it would be a good point to bow out as it’s all downhill from there!” he added.

“There is still an awful lot of hunger in me though and it is success that drives you on. We’ll let the dust settle and see what happens during the summer.”

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Ben Blake

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