Handball in mourning as legend 'Ducksie' dies suddenly at 50
The sport of handball has lost its greatest icon following the sudden passing of the most successful player the game has seen, Kilkenny legend Michael 'Ducksie' Walsh.
At 50 years of age, Walsh was officially ranked number two in 60x30 handball and, just two weeks ago, recorded one of the biggest shocks of recent seasons when he stunned top seed Eoin Kennedy of Dublin in the final of the Irish 60x30 Nationals.
'Ducksie' was regarded as a boy wonder soon after taking up the game at nine years of age on the outdoor courts near 'The Butts' area of Kilkenny city, where he was reared as one of seven siblings.
He won every honour in the game as a juvenile and became the first Irish underage player to win a title in America.
Then, in his first year out of minor, he won the All-Ireland 60x30 senior singles title in 1985.
For the next 13 years, he was untouchable, smashing every record in singles and winning 15 All-Ireland senior doubles titles with Michael Reade, Eugene Downey and hurling star DJ Carey as his partners.
And after he finally lost - to Walter O'Connor in 2002 - he bounced back to win the 60x30 singles on three more occasions.
His ferocious will to win and application to training was legendary.
Off the court, his was a remarkable story. In 2001, his run of senior All-Irelands coming to a close, he addressed the alcoholism which had threatened to derail him. He underwent treatment in the Aiséirí Centre in Tipperary and later raised over €100,000 for charity.
The centre recommended that he continue to play handball and so he threw himself back into the sport, which resulted in his extraordinary longevity at the top.
He dominated the Masters (over 40) grades, winning an All-Ireland with his old friend Carey earlier this year, while always chasing just one more championship success.
He seemed to have taken a step closer towards realising that dream when he rolled back the years a fortnight ago to topple Kennedy in the Nationals, which is essentially a warm-up for the championships.
'Ducksie', who won 38 senior All-Irelands in all, fell ill last Saturday after competing against the best players in the country in a one-day tournament in Kingscourt and died at 1.40pm yesterday.
GAA national handball manager John Kelly described him as "one in a million, a tremendous competitor, a sportsman par excellence and an iconic figure."
He is survived by his wife Sheena, son Dylan, and daughters Megan and Niamh. His funeral takes place on Saturday after 1.30pm requiem mass in St Bennett's Church, Bennettsbridge to Foulkstown Cemetery.