Wally’s Arms and The Hall of Liginds

Blimey, we’ve been writing a few of these career-end pieces of late (Flannery, Micko, Shaggy) and while it’s nice to be able to heap praise on great players and look back at glittering careers, it’s a sad day whenever another one of the stalwarts who’ve given so much to cheer about over the last decade is forced to throw in the towel.  So here we go again, as the great David Wallace announces his retirement, unable to return to fitness from the knee injury which ruled him out of the World Cup in the cruelest of circumstances.

It’s desperately unlucky that a player of such durability and astonishing fitness levels should be felled by a freak injury.  Jirry and Shaggy’s injuries were degenerative, and they would probably have sensed the end coming for some time, but Wally was chopped down suddenly when his knee went awry in a challenge amid a typically bustling performance in the World Cup warm-up match against England, as the game had been stopped but play carried on.  Tough break.

Most of our memory banks will be dominated by the Wally of the last six years, where he has been a constant in the national team, and a freakishly consistent performer.  So it’s weird to recall that at his supposed prime (the 25-29 years, as the Mole will tell you) he was a slightly peripheral in-and-out member of the Irish squad; the Eoin Reddan of the early-Eddie period.  A non-conventional ball-carrying openside, Eddie often preferred the more conventional No.7 (ask Hook and McGurk – they are well-versed in genuine opensides), Keith Gleeson.

Understandable in a horses for courses sense, for sure, but Eddie frequently omitted Wallace entirely from the picture (before then omitting Gleeson entirely – go figure).  It’s extraordinary to think that a 27-year old Wally was left out of the 2003 World Cup squad, eventually making it out as an injury replacement for Alan Quinlan but barely featuring.

In any case, there are enough great moments to remember that such grievances can take a back seat. Seventy-two Irish caps and three for the Lions, as well as 203 appearances for Munster.  He started all five games in the Grand Slam season, and was a cornerstone of Munster’s two Heineken Cup wins.  Man-of-the-match awards were frequent, and Wally, with his hard-carrying and speed over the ground, was a highly visible back-row operator.  He’d an eye for the tryline too, with 12 for Ireland and 40 for Munster.

His outstanding performances against England in 2011 and a barnstorming game, skittling of anything in front of him in the less familiar No.8 jersey against Sale at Thomond Park in a crucial 2008-09 Heineken Cup group game are two that instantly spring to mind.  When the era of Munster dominance came to its shuddering end in Toulon, Wally stood above all others in fighting the losing battle  in the Felix-Mayol. And, speaking of playing in an unfamiliar jersey, we seem to recall one injury-hit period in Munster when Wally played 4 different positions in 4 matches – across the back row and at 12 – Ooooooooooooooohh!! Its hard to think of another modern Irish player who could (and would) do that.

While we always knew Wally was great, it only dawned on this half of WoC (Palla) just how great he was when sitting in the front row of Croke Park for Ireland v Scotland in 2008.  Normally, I end up sitting up with the Gods for international games, but on this occasion I’d seats a couple of rows from the front.  Not so good for following the patterns and back moves, but great for feeling the collisions.  I came away with a whole new understanding of just how destructive Wally going into contact was. At times it seemed Scotsmen would be chucked over the hoardings into the seat beside me.  And – at the risk of getting into man-crush territory – the size of his arms!  Lordy!

He’ll be remembered as one of the best ball-carriers of the modern era, whose pace and leg drive drove him repeatedly over the gain line.  He was a tough, intelligent player and (ok, maybe we do have a bit of a man-crush) a handsome fellow to boot.  Pretty much how anyone would want to be go down in history.

P.S. Meanwhile, John Hayes has been inducted into the IRUPA Hall of Fame.  It goes without saying nobody deserves it more – he held up dodgy scrums against fearsome opponents for a decade.  We can add little to the mounds already written declaring him to be a ligind and a jolly good fellow, but suffice it to say that he gave everything he had for Ireland and Munster and even when he had nothing left to give, he continued to offer it up for the cause.

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2 Comments

  1. Amiga500

     /  May 7, 2012

    What a player.

    Proof that you don’t need a genuine openside* to be a successful team as long as the rest of the forwards turn over and disrupt their share of rucks. In fact, your probably a better balanced team if you don’t rely on one man to go ground-hogging.

    *©Hook & Skoi plaaas

  2. Michael Galweyyyyyy

     /  May 8, 2012

    There was a strong whiff of controversy about him being omitted by Eddie – Wally allegedly v. friendly with a niece of Liam Lawlor at a time when he shouldn’t have been?

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