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class act for all seasonS

SUMMER may well be over and for Republic of Ireland Amateur skipper James Walshe it's been one of contrasting emotions.

He ended up on the losing side when his St Michael's team finished on the wrong end of a penalty shoot-out defeat in the FAI Junior Cup final to Fairview Rangers - his third Junior Cup final defeat in 10 years at the end of last season.

Decidedly more memorable was his engagement to long-term girlfriend Emma whilst holidaying in New Zealand. September 2011 is a possible date for the nuptials.

Thoughts of marriage however will be far from his mind in the coming weeks and months as Gerry Smith's FAI Amateurs prepare for a UEFA Regions Cup qualifier with France, Italy and San Marino.

As part of the build-up to that group qualifier which will be hosted by the FAI, the Amateurs have a 'friendly' fixture on Saturday against England at Frank Cooke Park, home of Tolka Rovers and will follow up with an away game with Northern Ireland at Loughall.

The game against England will mark Walshe's record making 60th cap after winning his first cap against the Isle of Man back in 2001.

"I'm thrilled to have won one cap - let alone 60 but it's also a great honour to have surpassed the records of Barry Flynn and Keith Bruen who were senior figures when I first arrived and who had such a big influence on me," said the 34 year-old Cashel town-born defender.

"They were two different characters but they had an immense influence on me. Barry was quick to welcome any new member into the squad and made sure you were included from the off, while Keith, was inspirational, and, as a defender had a big influence on the way I played."

It's a remarkable achievement to have amassed 60 caps but Walshe is quick to spread the bouquets about.

"I've been fortunate to have had great support from my club and my league as well as my family and friends and that is genuinely important," he states modestly.

His longevity is all the more remarkable considering he broke his leg at 16 and was out of the game for three years before he linked up with St Michael's in Tipperary.

Now a veteran campaigner at club and international level, Walshe has no thoughts of retiring and while the defeat to Fairview in last season's FAI Junior Cup was heart-breaking, he is made of stern stuff and simply states: "You just have to get over it and get on with it. You just can't lie down and feel sorry for yourself."

Based in Dublin, Walshe trains with St Kevin's Boys and commutes to Tipperary each weekend.

Yesterday he lined out for St Michael's against Clonmel Town - a re-match of last season's FAI Junior Cup semi-final. But now his thoughts turn to the Old Enemy England and he admits you don't need motivation for a fixture against Saturday's opposition. "We've played them a few times and we know we have a tough encounter on our hands."

"I had the privlige of captaining Ireland against England in Cooke Park in Tipperary in front of 2000 fans on a miserable night some years ago and it'd be great to have a support like that on Saturday to cheer us on.

As for Northern Ireland, Walshe feels that the Loughall encounter tomorrow week is more problematic than the clash against England.

"Northern Ireland have been very competitive in recent years and deservedly beat us in United Park in Drogheda two years ago when I won my 50th cap, and we only drew with then in the Guinness Quadrangular last season, so we know we will have our work cut out."

Walshe has lined out alongside Paul Breen on many occasions at the heart of the Irish defence and believes that the club pairing has been beneficial at international level too.

"It's important that you know the player you are lining out alongside and Paul and myself have an excellent understanding and that's a very important part of the game."

The IT support specialist is also fulsome in his praise of manager Gerry Smith and the success he has achieved during his stint as manager.

"We qualified for three UEFA Cup finals and that's pretty impressive given the calibre of opposition we've had to overcome to reach the finals."

"The availability of intermediate players was a great fillip for the amateur game, but Gerry and the backroom team have brought a huge amount of professionalism to the squad."

"We now have body fat analysis, diet sheets and we have been very well looked after by the FAI." "Gerry has been responsible for many of the innovations and along with Dennis Cruise, the FAI Junior Secretary, ensures that we are treated in a very professional way."

"We've prepared well for all our tournaments and being able to travel to places like Portugal or Sardinia have been of huge benefit in terms of preparation." "It sends out very strong singals to players that the Amateurs are treated in a very professional way and being part of the squad definitely has lots of positives."

Having skippered his country on 34 occasions, Walshe never loses sight of the honour bestowed upon him. "I've been fortunate to play for my country and that has been a real thrill. To lead out your country is also exceptional and I am truly honoured to be captain of my country."

You can be sure when Walshe leads his charges out next Saturday thoughts of breaking the caps record at this grade will be furthest from his mind.


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