IRISH rugby heroes tend to be writ large and Jerry Walsh was one such, generally regarded as Ireland's greatest centre-threequarter even though he cut short his international career when, at 28, he was still in his prime.
Centres may, as a general rule, be divided into two categories: the jinking will o' the wisp that most obviously reflects the sprightliness of the Irish temperament, and the big, bustling stopper. Walsh was among the latter, possibly the finest defensive centre in the world in the mid-Sixties and for a couple of magical years forming a perfectly complementary partnership with Kevin Flynn.
Flynn the Dubliner was a rapier, Walsh the Corkman a bludgeon, and they played together for Ireland on 10 occasions. Flynn's international career spanned 15 years and Walsh's might have done, too, had he wished it.
Walsh was Cork-born and there he stayed for much of his life, attending Presentation Brothers' College, an eminent rugby academy which has produced many a fine player. He studied medicine at the city's university college and went on to play for the notable Cork club Sunday's Well.
He won his first cap against Scotland in 1960 and, although he took a while to become an automatic selection, his biting tackling and powerful running became characteristics of Ireland's rugby in an era when success was familiarly hard to achieve. Their best record in the Five Nations' Championship during the Walsh years was only 50-50.
Walsh's grandest achievements came towards the end of his international days. He was selected for the 1966 British Isles tour to Australia and New Zealand but had to return home early after a family bereavement. He was in the Munster provincial side who beat Australia later in the year and in 1967 played a notable part in Ireland's historic defeat of Australia in Sydney. This was the first time any of the home countries had won an international match in the southern hemisphere, an accomplishment put into still more flattering perspective by the subsequent travails down under of England, Scotland, Wales and inevitably Ireland.
That Walsh's prowess was mainly defensive was shown by his scoring record: it was not until his 26th appearance that he managed a try for Ireland. But the occasion, that famous victory at Sydney Cricket Ground, could scarcely have been bettered. With that he retired, in order better to pursue his career as a doctor.
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