Official Aras Mumhan Website

30th April 2024

People who invest their lives in the military are trained in so many disciplines. Leadership, planning, vision, care for those in one’s charge and standing up for what is believed to be the right way. Standing tall, and not just in a physical sense in all these respects was Miltown Malbay native Noel Walsh.

By Michael O’Connor, Vice Chairperson, Clare GAA

He loved his family, his job and Clare football. Growing up in Ireland in an era when the emigrant boat was for many the perceived best option, he had a calling to serve his community and did so by joining the Army. Very quickly the strapping youngster who could call legendary athlete Ronnie Delaney as a class mate and friend was earmarked for promotion and he spent over 40 years as an army officer rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st Battalion in Renmore Barracks, Galway which was the only Gaelic speaking unit in the Armed forces.

Noel and his love for GAA

As a young man growing up in Miltown and having a career in the military the old adage “give a busy man a job” rung true for Noel and he served a number of officer roles with his club. His playing career with St Joseph’s Miltown Malbay was successful as at the time his beloved club were in contention for championships. He helped to win Minor and Senior honours in 1953 and another senior title in 1959. Progression in the GAA, similar to his working career, was swift and he was soon debating at county level at a time when there were gifted orators well able to find a corner that didn’t exist to get their way. Noel became famous and sometimes feared when he stood up to talk and having been a young delegate attending meetings in the 1990s whenever the “Colonel” stood up to talk, silence did fall onto the room. Sometimes he won his way, other times not so. When sometimes in defeat after a debate he would throw one hand up in the air as if to say the battle may be over, but the war is yet to be won.

His leadership qualities shone through and quickly he was appointed as manager and many other roles with the Clare senior football team. Speaking to players who operated under Noel in the 1970s and 1980s they spoke so well of the man and his love to see the best for Clare. There were tough defeats and not too many sweet successes. Yet, with fondness all spoke so well of Noel as to how strict and firm he was on one hand, but immediately saw and helped out so many county men and understood one had to enjoy the sport to prosper. “Patience” one former footballer said was his greatest attribute considering who he had to deal with in terms of attitudes at board level “to get more for the football side of the house”. Considered a norm in modern day GAA but a novelty in the mid 1970’s when Clare played a divisional final against Armagh in Croke Park Noel organised 30 all gold tracksuits with the players names on the back. Little did people know at the time that Noel was a fashion designer lost in the GAA world.

Open Draw

If one’s gravestone was to have two words that will always be linked to the life lived “Open Draw” would be Noel’s. The stars aligned when the open draw arrived after many years of cajoling, phone calls, meetings and all the other machinations loved in the GAA. A group of young players raw, rough and ready were emerging. A decent Under 21 team in 1987, an All-Ireland Senior B title, the appointment of another young army officer, similar to Noel’s appointment 20 plus years earlier, was confirmed in Mayo’s John Maughan. Just as in the military, Crusheen became base camp. Rain, muck and the sweet-sounding John Maughan decided for players that it was easier to win in the summer than to face defeat and Crusheen again the following winter as losers. Clare GAA had never tasted success in championship fare since 1932 in hurling and 1917 in football.

Gaelic Grounds 1992 does not need to be revisited except there is one photo of Noel in the background as Francis McInerney accepts the cup. Grown grey haired men were crying and Noel was standing, chest out, coolness personified announcing the campaign has been successful and standing tall. Noel progressed on the provincial stage to being firstly Vice Chairperson then Chairperson of the Munster Council. Amazingly, the Clare hurling era was emerging and one of his greatest thrills was presenting Anthony Daly with the 1995 Munster Cup. That photo was at his bedside at his passing. Initiatives that Noel helped to foster include scholarships for third level students, flood lighting for several county grounds, funding for games development and a burning desire to keep the Railway cups relevant. Noel twice sought the Presidency in 1999 and 2002 and fell short on both occasions but was honoured to be elected Trustee and served on Management for a number of years.

He was proud to have played a small part in the opening up of Croke Park to other sports by the repeal of rule 42. Noel was also Chairperson of the Football Development Committee whose ground breaking work led to the football qualifiers. One could say the years of networking to get the Open Draw in Munster trained Noel well for the qualifiers. When all that work was completed and the next generation of rule makers were moving upwards, Noel took a step back to where it all began and went back for a number of years as delegate for St Joseph’s Miltown Malbay.

Noel had hobbies like us all and his included golf and he was a member of Lahinch GC with a best handicap of 8 and at one time was All Army golf champion. On two occasions played in the South of Ireland golf championship. He was a film buff and had a huge passion for movies. Quietly, for many years he had to keep quiet his love for West Ham United and in particular the silken skills of the legendary Bobby Moore. However, all his hobbies played second fiddle to family, work and the GAA.

Noel was so proud of his family and all their achievements. He met and fell in love with Ursula O’Loghlin when both based in Cork. Ursula’s family had deep Ennistymon and Clare GAA roots. They lived most of their married life in Limerick and whilst she could have been classed as a GAA widow she loved and supported all that Noel contributed to work, sport and life. Three children emerged from this wonderful union. Lisa is a lawyer with the HSE living in Ennis whilst Noelle is a civil servant in Miltown. His son Carl won Sigerson 1988 with UCC plus county championships with St Joseph’s Miltown and was on the 1992 Munster football winning panel. He won league honours with Clare and played in a number of Munster Junior finals. Carl was player coach of Clanna Gael Fontenoys, Dublin in 2000 when they won senior status and at the age of 56 is still playing in Australia and is President of Young Melbourne GAA Club. The Walsh name is still involved in the development of GAA, the fostering of youth and the creation of new standards plus more importantly perhaps the breaking down of barriers.

Following a proposal from Clare, the Munster Council have approved the commissioning of the new Noel Walsh Cup, which will be presented for the first time to the 2024 Munster Under 20 Football Champions on Wednesday May 1st.

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