To those of us in the media game, Martin Walshe was always a familiar and friendly face for big matches at Dr Hyde Park.
The Éire Óg clubman, who spent almost 24 years working as a steward at the county town venue, would be at the ground up to three hours in advance of throw-in to show members of the media into the press box.
This week, at his home in Errit, Co. Roscommon, close to the Mayo border, he looked back fondly on his time acting as gatekeeper for visiting sports journalists, and meeting everyone from local hacks like yours truly to household names and national broadcasters.
“I had been working as a steward for around three years when one day during a game, the late Gerry Finneran, a great friend of mine, tapped me on the shoulder and told me he had a job for me,” Martin said.
“I sat down in a chair inside the press box door and was told to stay there until someone came and told me to move…no one every did!”
During his time in the press box, Martin met them all: Jimmy Magee (“one of the soundest”), Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh (“lovely man”), Marty Morrissey (“some man!”), Michael Lyster (“absolute gentleman”) and the “wonderful” Brian Carthy. Gerry O’Malley, Paddy Cummins and Tom Mullen were also regular visitors, while his great friend Dermot Earley would pop by on his way into the match too.
The late, great Dermot was Martin’s best friend, he says, and the Walshe family played a huge part in the erection of a statue of the Roscommon legend in Gorthaganny.
“He gave me that,” Martin says as he points out a framed photograph of the former All-Star and Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces. Just outside his ‘memorabilia room’ there’s a jersey from the 1960s that was given to him by another Rossie legend, Gerry O’Malley.
Martin speaks highly of everyone he met through his work with Roscommon GAA, from the “ladies who made the tea and sandwiches” to announcer Gerry Kehoe and members of the County Board.
Apart from his family, the Rossies, and Éire Óg, Martin’s other major love is Arsenal. A tenuous soccer fling started before he left Roscommon for London as a 20-year-old in 1970. It became a full-blown love affair after a season standing on the terraces of Highbury.
“Will they win the league this season? Well, it’s like this, Mikel Arteta has done a great job but they’ve dropped back a bit lately in those games against Liverpool and West Ham. They’ll need to win on Friday night and then they just can’t come away from The Etihad beaten,” he says.
What about Roscommon this Sunday at the Hyde?
“I like Davy Burke. Roscommon have great forwards…and our backs looked like they had a plan and knew what they were doing against Mayo. Galway are a great team but if we can stay close to them into the last fifteen minutes then we have a great chance,” he said.
Martin’s time manning the press box came to an end with the outbreak of Covid-19. There was no need for stewards with the crowds gone, he says.
This Sunday, Martin and his wife Kathleen will drive down to their daughter Ann’s house, which just happens to be right opposite the Hyde! The couple have three children in all: Ann, Martina and Vincent, as well as two grandchildren and two ‘Man United supporters’ as sons-in-law.
When he was working in the press box, he’d have to leave the house four hours before the Castlerea Brass & Reed Band started up, but now match days are a far more laid-back affair.
“We can drive straight into Ann’s house now for about 3 o’clock or a quarter past this Sunday, park the car and walk back towards the Hyde. It gives us more time with the family,” he says.
Despite not being involved as a match day steward anymore, Martin still calls into the press box to say hello to old friends. And, much like Dublin legend Stephen Cluxton, there has yet to be an official retirement statement issued from Errit!
“If the County Board or someone called me and said they were stuck for stewards I’d go back in,” Martin says.
But right now he’s happy with another trip to the Hyde, a venue filled with memories of old friends, and where a chat and cup of tea will always await him among the biro pushers and broadcasters on championship Sunday.