Gary Walsh, the Donegal goalkeeper, will always appreciate the enormity of the 1992 All- Ireland success and the honour of being a member of the first ever Donegal team to claim Gaelic football’s greatest prize.
Continuing our series looking back on the All-Ireland success of 1992. This week we feature goalkeeper Gary Walsh of Aodh Ruadh and Burren.
BY TOM COMACK
Gary, known to his teammates as ‘Big George’, had soldiered in the green jersey for years and like so many of his teammates had served his time at the altar of disappointment and heartbreak.
“The whole experience of winning the All-Ireland and being a member of the first team to do so and to climb the steps after the final whistle to lift the Sam Maguire will be my abiding memory of ‘92 and I guess it will always be,” said Gary.
“The All-Ireland is the ultimate dream of all footballers and to be honest it took a while for the enormity of what we had achieved to sink in. Obviously as I look back on it now it was special to be a member of the first team to win the All-Ireland and the first team to bring the Sam Maguire Cup back to Donegal.
“Growing up as a wee boy, like all young boys, my dream was always to play for Donegal and once that happened the dream was to play in Croke Park. And then once that happened winning the All-Ireland became the dream.
“So it is not too difficult to imagine what it is like when that dream is fulfilled. Unbelievable is the only way to describe it. It was simply an unbelievable feeling and there is no other way of describing it.”
Looking back on the final and the whole ‘92 campaign it brings back nothing but pleasant memories for Gary even if he was clocking up big miles back in those years to wear the green and gold.
“I was living Down at the time. I moved there in 1989 and made the journey up and down every week for training and in those years I used to put up a fair few miles every year. I think the happiest man in Donegal when I retired was the county treasurer.
“I thought nothing of it at the time. In the early part of the year, I used to make the journey once a week but as the season wore on it went to twice a week and then three times a week. It would mean finishing work at 4 pm to be in Ballybofey for 6pm and home again afterwards leaving Ballybofey at 9 or 9.30pm, depending on how much McEniff had to say.”
But it was all worthwhile when the final whistle blew in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day.
“The whole day was a roller coaster from the moment we left the hotel on the way to Croke Park, and seeing all the supporters lining the streets on the way to the ground.
“It seemed as if all of Donegal were in Dublin that day. There were green and gold jerseys and flags everywhere and the sheer excitement and sense of anticipation on the faces of the supporters was something to behold and is also a memory and that will always stay with me too forever.
“There was a real carnival atmosphere in and around Croke Park. And then when we came out for the game, Croke Park just seemed to erupt as if there was nobody else in the place other than Donegal people.
“We were a fairly experienced bunch of players but we had not experienced an atmosphere like Croke Park on All-Ireland final day before.
“Up to that day I’d say the biggest crowd we had ever played before was in and around 30,000 in Clones in the four Ulster finals and the two All-Ireland semi-finals. But here we were now facing the Dubs in front of a full house of 66,000 plus and all the pomp and ceremony that goes with the day. It was very intimidating and I think that is why we were nervous early on and probably accounted for why we got a little jittery late on too.”
Like all of Donegal, Gary savoured the achievement at the final whistle and for the next few days. But living and working in Down, and playing his club football with Down club Burren, he was. as he says himself. one of the first to get off the celebration bandwagon.
“We had a great night back in the Grand Hotel, Malahide. All my family were there and it was good to share the occasion with them and the supporters and of course the homecoming was out of this world.
“First crossing the Drowes, and then onto Bundoran, Ballyshannon and Donegal Town on the Monday night. The crowds and the scenes were unbelievable and I suppose brought home to me for the first time what winning the All-Ireland meant to the people of the county.
“By the time Thursday came we were all exhausted and I know I certainly was not fit for any more long days and late nights. I was lucky in that I had a good excuse; a friend of mine Patrick McCafferty, Belleek, was getting married on the Friday so I got off the bandwagon on Thursday.
“The following week I was back training with Burren preparing for the first round of the Ulster club championship final. I had just transferred to them that year and with Burren getting to the Ulster final I did not get back down for much of the celebrations for the rest of the year, which was disappointing. But believe me I still enjoyed it all the same and what was a special year in my life and that of many Donegal people.”