Andrew Ferguson – Pat Walsh: The Natural

Born in Cooks Hill on May 3, 1879, Patrick Bernard Walsh attended Newcastle Superior Public School where he received medals for running and in 1895 he received a medal for the best cricket all-rounder.

The following year he left school aged 17, to work as a railway porter. He joined the Norwoods Rugby Union club and was an integral member of their undefeated side who also avoided conceding a point during the 1896 season.

In 1897 Walsh and his team-mates were presented with medals to commemorate their previous season’s feats. While he was walking along a city wharf, the medal fell off his waistcoat chain. He returned half an hour later to find his medal had been crushed by a cart and the gold inlay was missing. Walsh kept the damaged medal remnants which remained one of his prized possessions.

In 1898 a residential system was introduced forcing players to join the team representing the district where they lived. Walsh and other players from the Norwoods and Carlton clubs formed the Newcastle Central team for the 1899 season, who won the premiership that year. Walsh would go on to win another four premierships with the club.

In 1899 he was selected to represent Northern Districts against the touring British side that contained the player Blair Swannell, whom Walsh would have several clashes with in his career.

Walsh again represented the Northern Districts in 1900 and in September of 1902, was instrumental in their 18-6 victory against the more fancied Sydney Metropolis side.

In 1903 Walsh moved to the Carlton Club where he was soon regarded as one of the premier forwards in New South Wales. He was selected in the Combined Country side that played Sydney Metropolis and the touring New Zealanders, before earning his first cap for NSW when selected to play against Queensland in the interstate series.

On July 2, 1904, Pat Walsh made his debut for the Wallabies against Great Britain. Despite his own good performance, the Wallabies went down 17-0. Joining him in the Australian team that day were future Rugby League pioneers Alec Burdon and Dinny Lutge. Walsh’s opponent in the British side was Blair Swannell.

After the test, Walsh lined up for the Northern Districts against the British. During the game he had a collision with British winger Fred Jowett, causing the winger to retire from the match with concussion. The tourists went after Walsh, but he held his own.

During this game it was alleged that British player Denys Dobson swore at referee Harry Dolan. Dobson was immediately sent from the field. England’s captain David Bedell-Sivwright was incensed at the decision and ordered his team to leave the field in protest, before soon returning. Walsh was one of five Northern Districts players that supported the referee’s decision at an ensuing investigation into the “Dobson incident” by the NSWRU, who surprisingly sided with the English players, claiming the referee had heard wrong. This would prove to be a catastrophic decision by the NSWRU.

Walsh played in the second test at Brisbane but the British were again too strong, running out victors 17-3. Blair Swannell flattened Walsh in what appeared to be a personal vendetta.

The Wallabies lost 16-0 in the third test, where Walsh was one of the few shining lights for the Australians.

Walsh and the British squared off one last time when NSW played the tourists in their last tour match. The game was dominated by very heavy forwards clashes, most involving Walsh.

He retained his place in the state side for the first interstate game of 1905 and was considered one of the best three players in the losing NSW side on the day.

The next week Walsh played a starring role, leading NSW to victory against Queensland. The praise for his performance was great and unanimous, with commentators stating: “Walsh played grandly”, “Walsh played a brilliant game” and opinions suggesting he was one of Australia’s best forwards.

However, it was oddly deemed not good enough to see him retain his place in the state side for the upcoming match against the touring New Zealanders. Walsh was replaced by Blair Swannell, the British tourist who was now playing for North Sydney.

His omission to this day is one of the most baffling made in either Rugby code in Australia. The Referee reported that “Walsh’s exclusion is simply a Chinese puzzle” after state selectors suggested that Pat Walsh’s form had dropped in his last two games.

After the third interstate game, the NSW squad was selected for an end-of-season tour of New Zealand. Walsh was again omitted.

He then captained the Newcastle side to a convincing 30-0 victory, putting in a best-on-field display, scoring three tries. The NSWRU still refused to select him. The Arrow reported:

“If the Australian team to visit New Zealand included Walsh, one would have no fear as to the forwards holding their own against anything in New Zealand. There is no better forward in Australia than Walsh, probably no one quite as good. In the Newcastle district, the “Dobson incident” inquiry is thought to have in some way prejudiced Walsh’s chances of being selected. It is clear that the Newcastle forward has not been omitted on the ground of his ability not being good enough.”

Walsh played for Carlton in the Grand Final against Newcastle. Carlton had lost to Newcastle three times during the year, each time they were missing Walsh who was on representative duty.

Ten minutes before full-time, with Carlton holding a 2-0 lead, Walsh gathered the ball and ran twenty yards to score between the posts. Carlton won 9-0.

Pat Walsh then travelled to South Africa and participated in an expatriate Australian Rules competition in Johannesburg to maintain his fitness. He became vice-captain of the Commonwealth Football Team, who in November of 1905 won the Australian Football League Premiership.

Walsh returned to Newcastle early in 1906 where he learnt that the Northern Districts Rugby Union had lodged a protest with the NSWRU regarding his omission from the Australian touring team in 1905, however there was no resolution.

In April 1906, Walsh suddenly departed for New Zealand. Walsh admired the quality of football that the 1903 New Zealand tourists played and wanted to play among who he regarded as the best players in the world.

Upon arriving in Auckland, he was signed by the Parnell club and quickly earned selection in the Auckland Province representative team that toured New Zealand’s South Island, a feat he repeated in 1907.

Many believed he should have been selected in the New Zealand All Golds squad that was to tour Australia and England, with one commentator stating “Walsh stood out as being the best player in the senior grade competition.”

In 1908, the Auckland press proclaimed Walsh was the best forward in New Zealand. He was expected to be named in a representative side to face the touring British side; however he was again oddly omitted.

Around this time, Walsh received a cable from James Giltinan in Sydney, who asked Walsh to join the newly formed Rugby League competition, where he could be selected in an end-of-season tour to England. He accepted the offer as he saw it as his last chance to visit England.

He was greeted at Sydney wharf on the Saturday morning of July 18 by NSWRL secretary Henry Hoyle, who took Walsh to the Royal Agricultural Showground. Walsh was given an hour to learn the new game before lining up for Queensland against NSW. Queensland lost 12-3 in Walsh’s first game of Rugby League.

He played the last two games of the season for Newcastle, who wore the red and white striped jumpers of the Carlton club, as a tribute to Walsh.

Walsh was a late inclusion in Giltinan’s squad to tour England but was unable to get a ticket with the rest of the squad, so he had to board the SS Salamis instead. It was revealed he had brought a kangaroo with him as a mascot, which he hoped but failed to train to lead the team out carrying the ball. The kangaroo died after the tours completion, on the day before the players left England to return home.

Once in England, Walsh was selected in the Kangaroo’s side to play Salford. He started the game very strongly but was moved to the backs later in the game which met with little success.

The 11th game of the tour saw Australia face Northern Union champions Hunslet, whose forward pack contained the formidable “terrible six” and was led by champion Albert Goldthorpe. Walsh was a star performer, helping Australia to an impressive 12-11 victory.

Walsh played in all three of Australia’s test matches against England. The first test was a 22 all draw, the second, a 15-5 victory to the English who also won the third test 6-5. Walsh played in 29 of the exhausting 45 game tour, including an impressive performance in an exhibition match in Glasgow where he scored “a skilful dribbling try.”

While on tour, he became the first Australian player approached by an English club and accepted an offer from Huddersfield, whom he would play 6 games for at the end of their 1908-09 season, after the Kangaroo tour concluded.

Kangaroo tour manager James Giltinan stated at the time that Walsh was “the finest forward in the Northern Union.”

In the 1909-10 season, Walsh suffered a knee injury in a game against Hull on a frozen field at Craven Park. Huddersfield paid for him to travel to London to have an innovative and rarely performed operation on his knee.

His first game back was against Hull Kingston Rovers at Fartown where he managed to get through the first half, displaying his trademark unrelenting defence, but just before full time he re-injured the knee.

Walsh then travelled to Liverpool where he had the damaged cartilage successfully removed. He revealed years later “The club regarded me as something of a guinea pig. When my operation proved successful, they sent three other players along to have their cartilages removed. They’d been on the crock list and weren’t game to have the operation. I had it only because I knew that if I didn’t take the risk with a surgeon in England, there was no one in Australia who could help me.”

He played 7 games for Huddersfield in the 1910-11 season before returning to Australia with his future wife Rebecca Eve, a lady he met while she was playing piano at post-match functions during the Kangaroo tour. Upon his arrival in 1911, Pat Walsh joined the Newcastle Central team and three weeks later captained the Northern Districts team on their tour to Queensland, winning all three of their games.

Walsh moved to Queensland, first working in a Brisbane Post Office, then with the railways at Townsville where he briefly coached a local side.

Early in 1915, Pat and Rebecca married before the outbreak of war. Walsh enlisted with the 12th Light Horse Regiment and was promoted to Corporal two months later before being transferred to a railway construction unit. His younger brother Clem, also enlisted for service and was promoted to Major and later earned a Military Cross.

Pat suffered a number of illnesses while on duty; one caused paralysis in his legs which saw him require metal callipers on his legs and crutches to get around.

During the great depression, Pat would sit on his front veranda and talk to passers-by, offering them into the house for meals if they were hungry, much to the dismay of his wife. Pat’s brother Clem would often take him sailing around Newcastle.

In 1922, his son John Patrick Walsh was born. John became a Rugby Union player for the Newcastle Wanderers, earning selection in a Newcastle representative side, but his career was unable to reach the lofty heights of his father. John later became secretary of the club.

Pat Walsh passed away on May 22, 1953, 3 weeks after his 74th birthday.

While at Huddersfield he was described as “a grim, gaunt forward, with a deadly embrace, tackles with scrupulous fairness and proportionate effectiveness.”

James Giltinan succinctly described Walsh as “a generous-hearted, able forward and a sterling character.”

His mistreatment fuelled a simmering groundswell of animosity by some players against the Rugby Union which eventually led to the birth of Rugby League in Australia. Despite this mistreatment, he never complained. He became a successful player in three football codes across three different countries.

A true legend.

********This article appeared in Rugby League Review Magazine************

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