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Kevin Walker -- the winner of Sweden's Pop Idol -- hoping to hit the right notes for Ireland some day

The 24-year-old son of a Carlow man is the only professional footballer signed up to Universal Music.

Kevin Walker: trying to play ball and develop a football career in Sweden.
Kevin Walker: trying to play ball and develop a football career in Sweden.

SINCE THE GRANDPARENT rule was introduced in 1965, the debate has raged: what makes an Irish person Irish: birthplace, accent or ancestry?

Even before the Jack Charlton era — when just nine of 34 debut caps were of Irish birth between 1988 and 1996 — this was a pressing  issue in Irish football.

After all, it was Charlton’s predecessor, Eoin Hand, who first called on Mark Lawrenson, Kevin Sheedy and Tony Cascarino.

Indeed, going back to 1973, Arsenal’s Terry Mancini — who was born and raised in northwest London to an Irish father — did not recognise Amhrán na bhFiann on his debut.

However, following the success of the Charlton years, there has been little opposition to English-accented players representing Ireland — with Matt Holland and Kevin Kilbane among the most committed and proud Irish footballers of all-time.

Never before, though, has an Irish-Swede donned the green jersey and 24-year-old Kevin Walker may well become the first. Walker, a box-to-box central midfielder with GIF Sundsvall in the Swedish Superettan, is the son of Pat Walker, the Carlow man who played for Bohemians in 1982-83.

Aside from spending a few summers in Carlow, Kevin Walker has spent his whole life in Sweden. Yet, when speaking English, the midfielder possesses a startlingly strong Carlow brogue and relies on ‘Irish’ crutch words such as ‘like’, ‘kind of’ and ‘sort of’.

Unsurprisingly, Walker’s Irish roots mean a lot to him.

“I’ve got a lot of fond memories coming home to my family and cousins,” Walker told TheScore.ie.

“My Dad talked a lot about them when I was growing up, so it was nice to come over and meet most of them. My Dad’s always been kicking the ball with me and my brother in the back garden. We’ve been watching football together. He was a football coach when we were growing up together, so we were always around the training sessions at different teams. Football’s been a big part of our family and life. He’s been a big influence on me and my brother. It’s a good thing.

“I’ve got some good memories of sitting up late singing in Carlow. My Dad sings as well, and my grandfather was a great singer. He had a really deep voice, so I’d be looking down his throat wondering where that sound came from! That’s how my interest started and it’s been in my family since I was young. We all like a good sing-song and sport as well.”

Quite tellingly, the two passions have gone hand-in-hand and while the 24-year-old initially made his name for his football ability, the past six months have seen his reputation rocket for an altogether different reason.

Walker, after all, was the winner of the 2013 series of Swedish Idol and is the only professional footballer signed up to Universal Music.

Such was the chaos Walker’s double-life instigated, TV4 – who coincidentally show Superettan games and Pop Idol – even moved a Sundsvall match to avoid a clash with Swedish Idol.

While this may seem ridiculous, Sundsvall’s vice-captain never missed a training session and Walker’s interest in performing was triggered by a life-threatening bout of blood poisoning in 2009.

tub67 Walker on the Late Late Show last year.

“It was a tough year for me, but I managed to keep my spirits up by keeping myself occupied and doing other things. I bought a guitar and started strumming along at home. That kicked it off and I started to create my own stuff. I got through it and it helped me overcome that year. Football wise, it was a bit of a pause and I fought my way back. I’m just thankful I was able to play again.

“I was just doing my thing on Idol and enjoying it. There were a lot of opinions going around, but I wasn’t involved in the moved games decision or anything like that. That was steered by the TV company and the FA.  I didn’t miss one training session and managed to keep my focus, doing the right things. I’m just thankful that it worked out for me. I had a great autumn. It was a privilege to able to do it.

“Around my football schedule, I’ve done the music. We played last Saturday and after, I drove a few hours to do a good gig. I’m still doing both and hopefully I can come out with some new material. My ambition is to do both things. Obviously, if a big club comes in, I’ll have to prioritise but you can’t play football forever and this is a great opportunity. It’s working well for me to combine the two. Doing something else has helped me on the field and I’m enjoying it.”

Walker’s performances of U2′s Pride and and the Script’s Hall of Fame, among others, helped him reach the final — where he performed Shine My Shoes with Robbie Williams.

Indeed, after winning the competition in December, Walker appeared on the Late Late Show – gaining national prominence.

With Walker’s emergence on the national consciousness coinciding with the appointment of a positive, progressive regime in Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, could Walker line out for Ireland one day?

“Of course, I dreamed of playing for the Swedish national team and managed to do that at youth levels. Obviously, playing in the Superettan in Sweden, I’m a bit far away from getting into the senior squad for Sweden or Ireland. But, I feel I’ve got potential and with a bit of wind in my sails, you never know.  I’m only 24 and anything can happen. I’m raring to go this season and looking forward to it.

“Obviously, [O'Neill/Keane] have got their spotlight on England and I don’t think there’s that many Irish in other places. I don’t know if they’re keeping tabs on players abroad, but it’d be nice to get a look in. As I said, I’m playing in the Superettan so hopefully I can move up to a bigger club and go from there.”

Regardless of whether Walker goes one to become part of Ireland’s future, the midfielder can only foresee good things ahead for Ireland.

“I’m a big United fan and Roy Keane was one of my biggest idols when I was growing up. He was the one hanging on my wall. I’ve always seen him as a good leader and tried to copy a few things that he was good at.

“They needed a change and O’Neill’s record speaks for itself, with Celtic and all that. He’s a really good coach. I think it could be a great move for Ireland. From what I’ve seen of them so far, they’ve played well with them in charge.”

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About the author:

Ciaran Kelly

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