Leo Francis Walsh was elected to the Council of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union in 1991. Leo had a long and distinguished rugby career as a player with Tukapa and as a coach and administrator within Taranaki Rugby.
Leo’s playing career with Tukapa started in 1947 when he played 5th grade then progressed through both 4th and 3rd grades. After a 4 year break playing for the Marist Club he returned to play Senior Rugby in 1953, 54, 54 and 56.
His record as an administrator and coach spanned over 30 years and was impressive indeed. His coaching record is:
1955-61 Taranaki Primary Schools
1962-75 Francis Douglas 1st XV
1964-75 Taranaki Secondary Schools, convenor for 5 years
1972-75 North Island Under 18 selector
1976-81 Taranaki A Selector
1985 North Island Selector/Convenor.
And as an administrator:
1959-73 Taranaki Junior Management, chairman for 10 years
1961-75 Taranaki Secondary Schools Rugby Union
1983-90 TRFU Management Committee, chairman 6 years
Leo’s sporting endeavours were not limited to rugby having served at Taranaki level administration in cricket and tennis. What follows is a brief glimpse of memories Leo had of his involvement with “his” club Tukapa.
“My early memories of the Tukapa Club include thoughts on the tremendous intensity of our game of rugby in those days (40’s). The vast majority ensured we became totally involved in the “electric” drama of the rugby season. No other sport dared to time events to clash. The girls played basketball (now netball) on Saturday mornings, finishing competition at a time which enabled them to attend the afternoon rugby matches.
The club games of the day were regularly attended by thousands. I believe a Tukapa v. Old Boys match in the mid 1950’s enticed a record gate patronage of some 7000 people. The club matches were replayed by debate and argument in the clubs’ hosting hotel until closing time at 6pm and then well into the night’s house parties, leaving little time to go to the dance hall to meet the waiting ladies for the last few dances.
Joining the club at lower grade level in 1947 I quickly learned the intense club spirit and the rivalry between Tukapa and the other clubs. Yes, you did not dare venture past the Devon Street assembly spots taken by the Star club players and members and it was almost total betrayal to befriend one of the Star members or his sister!
The annual Tukapa v. Star senior fixtures were definitely not for the faint-hearted. Had today’s video machines been available the disciplinary committees would have viewed “horror movies” well into the next week. But few held grudges. Van de Water and Potaka received their marching orders and left Pukekura Park in disgrace but met quickly outside the pavilion to share a remedial drink! Okato did not love Tukapa for invoking Rule 56 and then having to suffer a loss to the blue and whites after the TRFU decided on a three way play-off.
There was very little skin left on the body after being rucked through the 1950s Stratford forward pack. We recovered, forgave and returned to the fray on the next Saturday. Tukapa players never flinched under the intense pressure from many outstanding Taranaki clubs and has always been held in high esteem and with great respect by all down through the years.
My memory recalls gratitude to the coaches from Charlie Brown, Jack Sullivan and Harry Boswell down to the present day, the dedicated and skilful players, the loyal administrators and especially the magnificent work of the dedicated ladies’ committees over the years.
Although because of secondary school coaching and other commitments, I was unable to offer practical coaching and administration to the club, Tukapa has remained close to my heart as my club, which surely is one of the “greatest in New Zealand”.