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Thursday 21 September 2017

'Charlie, the manager, was up on a ladder, painting the roof'- Malone

Charlie Walker, pictured back in 1981 during his time as manager of St Patrick’s Athletic.
Charlie Walker, pictured back in 1981 during his time as manager of St Patrick’s Athletic.

As a man who was in the game for so long, Charlie Walker had a few nicknames. Charlie Talker was one, as he was so adept at getting his club, St Patrick's Athletic, into the media.

But Walker, who has passed away in his native Dublin, could also be called the man who made Paul McGrath.

It's hard to imagine that one of Ireland's all-time greats, one of the finest footballers to play in these islands in recent generations, was seen as a flop at a St Pat's side who were struggling.

But the story goes that McGrath, who had joined the Saints from Dalkey United, was not a success in the League of Ireland. He had been tried up front and in midfield without success.

The then manager Walker decided to give the soft-spoken lad one last chance, at centre half, in a game against Limerick. The rest is history.

Charlie Walker pictured with Paul McGrath at the launch of the former’s book Back From The Brink in 2006. Photo: Sportsfile
Charlie Walker pictured with Paul McGrath at the launch of the former’s book Back From The Brink in 2006. Photo: Sportsfile

"Paul was on his way out of the club, the committee at St Pat's felt he wasn't up to it and they wanted him gone," recalls Joey Malone, a member of that Pat's side.

"It wasn't working out. Charlie came to me to talk about it, I wanted him to play him at centre half alongside me. If Paul didn't play well that day, it would have been his last game for St Pat's no question.

"He played, he played well and he never looked back after that. But it took that move, to centre back, for Paul's career to take off and Charlie deserved credit for that."

Walker didn't win any trophies in his time as St Patrick's Athletic manager, bar the Leinster Senior Cup, the closest they came was an FAI Cup final defeat to Waterford in 1980.

When he left his post as Pat's boss in April 1984, after five years in the job, tears were not really shed on either side.

The team were struggling, on and off the field of play, as Pat's were fourth from bottom in the table when the soft-spoken coach opted to resign, the paltry gate receipts of £450 for an FAI Cup defeat to Home Farm suggesting an apathy from the fans.

Money was tight, and local rivals Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers had dominated the Dublin scene (Rovers were about to win the first of four successive league titles while Bohs had managed to reach a couple of Cup finals and would soon take on, and beat, Rangers in Europe) and Pat's supporters were getting fed up.

Walker's departure was mentioned in the press with leaks for weeks and, just before the end of the 1983/84 season, he left. He would soon return to management, with Longford Town, and was still coaching at schoolboy level until recently.

But many feel that Walker's contribution to the Saints cannot be forgotten.

"Charlie was a great character, but one of his great assets was an eye for a player," says Dave Henderson, who played for the Saints under Walker.

"He took in players like myself, Joey Malone, Jackie Jameson, Fran Gavin, we were all in the reserves at other clubs but Charlie saw something in us. He had five years at Pat's that was a good innings for a club which wasn't really winning things. I think we all liked playing under Charlie. The debriefs in the Horse and Jockey were always good."

Malone says: "He was steeped in the club.

"I remember one day, he was down there at the ground, up on a ladder painting the roof of the stand. The place was a bit rundown at the time and Charlie wanted it to look a bit better," added Malone.

"And we had success for the resources we had. We won the Leinster Senior Cup [1983] and to us, that was like winning the European Cup, I think it was the first trophy we won since the FAI Cup in '61."

Talks over the sale of Paul McGrath to Manchester United were legendary, as revealed by an expletive-laden account in McGrath's autobiography, Back from the Brink. "I think we got £30,000 for him in the end," Walker recalled in that book.

Malone recalls: "The Pat's people over were Charlie Walker and Paddy Becton, it wasn't easy to deal with United, the money on offer was very poor and in fact, Paul said he would be going over for not much more than he was already on with the money he was getting from Pat's and the day job. But what a great move it turned out to be and everyone did well out of it. Charlie was great for Paul."

Charlie Walker's funeral takes place this Thursday after 11am Mass in St. Teresa's Church, Donore Avenue.

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