In one form or another, Michael Walsh has been involved with Waterford FC/Waterford United for over 50 years, and the club has been in his blood since he first joined as matchday steward back in 1965.
As a young lad, Michael played with Valley Rangers and spent his youth kicking football against the wall in Doyle Street.
Michael’s world changed a half century ago when neighbour Andy Maddox asked Michael if he would like to help in Kilcohan Park for Waterford FC’s home games.
Young Michael jumped at the chance, his first job was to act as security as the Blues took on Shamrock Rovers. The main gate had come away from its fixtures and Michael was placed in front of the gate to stop fans gaining free entry.
The legend that was Paddy Coad was in charge as manager but Waterford had a dreadful season as the team finished bottom of the table.
The following season, Paddy turned things around and Waterford secured their first ever League of Ireland title at the onset of the glory years, with Michael Walsh was in the middle of it all.
For the record, Waterford FC won three Leagues in a row from 1968 to 1970 and famously drew then holders Manchester United in the 1968/69 European Cup, playing in the first soccer match ever played in Lansdowne Road. They would go on to face Glasgow Celtic in the 1970 European Cup, in an era when Vinny Maguire and Shay Brennan succeeded Paddy Coad, with two more titles following in 1971 and 73.
Michael is married to Bridie O’Callaghan and the happy couple have four daughters: Theresa, Breda, Helen and Caroline and are proud grandparents to eight children.
Bridie also served the club for many years as indeed did Michael’s mother Peggy. Bridie and Michael reside in Lisduggan but it would be fair to say that Michael is rarely there because if he’s not at the RSC washing and drying playing gear for three teams (first team plus Under 17 and Under 19 teams) he’s on the road with Waterford United.
Last weekend, for example, he was away in Donegal as Waterford United were playing away to Finn Harps and when one considers that the team completed the journey in one day that is one hell of a long day.
Michael spent his working life in Waterford Crystal (six years) Waterford Metal Industries (14 years) and the Texaco Garage on the Military Road (nine years) plus another number of jobs.
Several weeks ago he was thrilled to be made Honorary Vice-President of the Waterford United Club, a gesture he described as “truly brilliant'” and no-one deserved the honour more than this loyal servant.
During a busy day last week as he worked on the playing gear for the three teams, Michael looked back on his half century of years with the club he loves.
“The wonderful Johnny ‘Nish’ Barnes was the kit man at the time and he took me on as his apprentice, for away games,” said Michael. “I would help Johnny load the kit on and off the team bus as we headed for Milltown, Dalymount Park or Flower Lodge – it was all in the way of learning the trade.”
Michael added: By the end of 1975 the good times had passed and in came John McSeveney as the new manager. He ordered a revamp of the whole club and put me in charge of the dressing rooms which had to be spotless clean for the players before every game.
“McSeveney left Waterford in 1977 to return to England as coach of Sheffield United and kit man Johnny Barnes also retired from the club. A new broom was needed and the new man in charge was Belfast-born and former Everton and Man United player Tommy Jackson.
“This guy was a tough task master and straight away he appointed me as the new kit man and he said: ‘I want this club to be the best turned out club in League of Ireland football’.
“Jackson led Waterford to glory in the FAI Cup in 1980, this was the start of some payback for me as we travelled across Europe and that was great” admitted Michael before outlining some of the journeys he was part of.
“Dundalk completed the double in 1979 beating Waterford in the FAI Cup Final but the Blues went on to compete in the Cup Winners Cup losing 2-1 on aggregate to IFK Gothenburg who were then managed by Sven Goran Eriksson.
“After the 1980 Cup win Waterford beat Hibernian of Malta in the first round of the same competition before going out to Dynamo Tbilisi of Georgia (then the USSR) in the second round so I have seen a lot of the world with the club; I’ve also been to Spain and America with the club on various occasions.”
A new era began in 1982 as the Blues became Waterford United following the demise of Waterford FC.
Alfie Hale took over the reins as manager and his first appointment was to ensure that Michael Walsh remained as kit man.
Waterford United won the League Cup in 1985 and were back in the FAI Cup Final of 1986 only to be beaten by Shamrock Rovers, then the dominant power in the domestic game.
However Rovers won the double that season so the Blues were back in the Cup Winners Cup and Michael was searching for his passport one again.
“This time we took on Bordeaux only to lose out by the odd goal in three (at Kilcohan Park, losing 4-0 in France) to a team of that featured French internationals, Jean Tigana, Bernard Lacombe and Rene Girard. We enjoyed the trip to France despite losing and friendships were made on that trip.” Incidentally, the Bordeaux team was managed by Aimé Jacquet, who would manage France to World Cup victory on home soil in 1998.
Waterford’s performance’s dropped off in the next couple of seasons and Alfie Hale was replaced.
What happened next was incredible as the club changed managers so often it was hard to keep check on who was in charge.
Draw breath before reading: Peter Thomas, Derek Casey, Alfie Hale (second time), Andy King, Johnny Matthews (twice), Seamie Coad, Brendan Ormsby, Michael Bennett, Peter Fitzgerald, Tommy Lynch, Mike Flanagan, Paul Power, Jimmy McGeough, Alan Reynolds, Brendan Rea, Gareth Cronin, Mike Kerley, Stephen Henderson, Paul O’Brien and Tommy Griffin all came and went over the last 27 seasons.
Waterford United may have seen a lot of managers come and go in that period of time but each one of them had nothing but the utmost respect for Michael Walsh.
In May of this season, Roddy Collins took over and Michael Walsh was the first man he greeted as he walked into the RSC.
Michael introduced the new manager to his nephew Aidan Maher who has been beside him now for many years. The two of them are a superb double act and Aidan will be with the club for many more years to come just like Michael.
“I’ve loved every minute of my time with the Blues. I have become great friends with many of the former players and managers such as Brian Gardner, Sid Wallace, Al Finucane, Jimmy McGeough and especially Tommy Jackson.
“During the past few seasons the staff at the RSC have been brilliant to me. Darren Sealy and Keith Fitzgerald have fallen over backwards to help me and I just cannot thank them enough. The retirement of the head groundsman Tommy Purcell on Wednesday last was a sad day.”
Michael concluded: “Tommy worked from early morning to late at night on the playing fields at the RSC and he transformed the room where I operate from out there. I will miss Tommy very much as indeed will everyone who attends the venue.
“I have faith in Roddy Collins and I believe the team will make a real push for promotion next season. You must believe at all times in this game. I have seen it all during the past 50 years and, God willing, I will be healthy enough to keep helping Waterford United for a long time to come.”