The National Rugby League has today paid tribute to the memory of one of the greatest forwards to have ever played the game, the legendary Dragons hooker Ian Walsh, who passed away in a Forbes nursing home aged 80.
Walsh’s career as a tough and skilful hooker would take in 25 Tests (10 as captain), five Premierships with the Dragons and include a celebrated career as a champion of Rugby League in the bush.
His passing comes in a season where Rugby League celebrates the 50th anniversary of some of his greatest on-field triumphs as the on-field leader of the 1962-63 Kangaroos.
Playing across Condobolin, Parkes, Forbes and Eugowra, Walsh would represent Country against the French and Great Britain touring teams before being selected for the 1959-60 Kangaroo tour, where he played all three Tests.
Chasing a seventh consecutive Premiership, the Dragons snared Walsh to replace the legendary Ken Kearney for the 1962 season and Sydney saw first-hand both the toughness and the mastery of a man who could read the game like few others.
In his first year he added another Premiership to the Dragons’ tally and headed to the UK for a second Kangaroo tour.
His standing was such that when touring captain Arthur Summons was sidelined with injury early in the tour, Walsh took over as skipper.
He would lead the Kangaroos to an historic series win including the legendary Swinton Test when Australia humiliated Great Britain as it had never done before, winning 50-12 and becoming the first all Australian team to win the Ashes in the UK (Australia’s only previous Ashes victory in the UK in 1911-12 included New Zealand players).
Back in Sydney, Ian ‘Abdul’ Walsh would mastermind the way forward for the Dragons through Premierships in 1963, 1964 (missing the Grand Final through a broken arm) and 1965 before taking over as captain-coach of the Dragons in 1966.
He would take the Dragons to their 11th Premiership, confirming his position as one of the game’s greatest leaders.
Retiring in 1967, Ian would go on to coach Parramatta in 1971-72 and remained at all times a passionate champion for the game and the bush.
He was an outspoken columnist for The Daily Telegraph, as uncompromising as he was on the field. To anyone who knew him, he was just a great bloke.
“Ian Walsh was an absolute legend in our game,” Australian Rugby League Commission Chairman, Mr John Grant, said today.
“He was a great player and a great leader who had a deep love of Rugby League.
“The fact that the victories that he was a part of are still so celebrated today says it all.
“He was a genuine hero to many people on and off the field and he will be sadly missed.”
Ian is survived by his widow Margot, his two daughters, Donna and Terri, and five grandchildren.