New booklet focuses on ace centre John Walsh - 'the brainiest player in rugby league'

John Walsh in attacking mode

The Saints class of 1970-71, featuring John Walsh

First published in Sport
Last updated
St Helens Star: Photograph of the Author by , Senior Sports Writer

Saints have been blessed with an abundance of high quality, strong running, silky-skilled centres over the years – from the hard as nails Duggie Greenall in the 1950s through to free-scoring marquee signing Paul Newlove in the 90s.

And that complement was further enhanced by a trio of Australia’s finest exports in rugby league colossus Mal Meninga, magician Jamie Lyon and sublime flick-passer Matt Gidley.

And yet ask any fan aged in their 50s to pick an all-time Saints XIII and they will invariably pencil the name of John Walsh next to the number four slot.

It is not hard to see why. Walsh, who signed for Saints from Moss Bank ARL in April 1968, was a special player.

Described as ‘the brainiest player in rugby league’, on account of his BSc in mathematics and MSc in statistics, Walsh combined skill with a fearlessly combative physical approach to earn all the honours in the game before cutting short his sporting career just before his 29th birthday.

What do they say about good performers always leaving the audience wanting more?

Walsh is now the subject of a quirky little booklet penned and compiled by former Hull University colleague Bill Bailey.

The 32-page pamphlet, entitled Saint and Winner, is without doubt the first rugby league publication ever to have a sub-section entitled The Heine Borel Theorem.

But that, in a way, sums up Walsh’s different route into, and for that matter out of, the world of professional rugby league.

With the author’s personal recollections illustrated with cuttings from newspapers, photographs from the archives and the odd programme note here and there, the publication sheds light on Walsh as a person and player.

A three-time champion – twice under the play-off system in 1969-70 and 1970-71 and once under the traditional league table system in 1974-75 – Walsh also starred in Saints’ Wembley win over Leeds in 1972, after scoring tries in all the rounds en route to the twin towers.

And 1972 was a big year for the former Grange Park pupil, culminating in playing a central part in Great Britain’s last ever World Cup triumph.

Great Britain went through that tournament unbeaten, winning all three group matches against Australia, New Zealand and France.

Although Tony Karalius had been in the squad for the tournament, Walsh was the only St Helens player in that final line-up against Australia in Lyon. The game was drawn, despite 20 minutes’ extra time being played, but Britain took the crown by virtue of the league position.

His final stats reveal 48 tries and 156 goals in 181 appearances for Saints; the 1975 Premiership Final defeat by Leeds being Walsh’s last match before hanging up his boots to concentrate on his career in insurance, eventually emigrating to Ontario, Canada, where he still resides.

Copies of Saints and Winner may be bought from two sources at a cost of £3.40 including postage.

They are Alex Service, 14 Gunning Avenue, Eccleston, St Helens, WA10 5DL – with cheques payable to St Helens Players’ Association, to whom proceeds will go – or to PA Bailey (to whom cheques should be made payable), 6 Paddock View, Castleford, West Yorkshire, WF10 3TL.

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