I wonder what sports nutritionists would think of steak and lettuce as a match-day meal for rugby league players?
I imagine they would be quite critical of any club which implemented such a dietary policy.
But steak and lettuce was my preferred match-day meal, for the 12 years of my undistinguished senior playing career.
Why? Well, as an impressionable teenager, I read Ian Walsh’s book ‘Inside Rugby League’, and the legendary Australian captain/coach and hooker said he always had steak and lettuce on the day of a game.
If it was good enough for ‘Abdul’ (his nickname), it was good enough for me.
Mind you, I also had other strange habits, such as not drinking water at halftime, because I thought it would upset my stomach, and occasionally having a swig of port (Dutch courage) before a game, something that was introduced to me by my Murwillumbah Brothers’ captain-coach, Jack Nardi, in 1972. (I think it was his Italian background). I also had seen members of the Tweed All Blacks pass the port bottle along the line, before taking the field in a match at the Tweed Heads Recreation Ground.
Ian Walsh continued to be a bloke whose ideas and opinions I absorbed over the years, as, on retirement from playing, and then coaching, he became a controversial columnist for the Sydney Telegraph newspaper, with Ray Chesterton his ghost writer.
He didn’t take on a new persona when he became a columnist, because he was outspoken when he was a player and a coach.
That book, ‘Inside Rugby League’ landed him in hot water with officialdom because, he was so blunt about the violence on the field, and some of the more raucous activities, off the field. Australian Rugby league chairman, Bill Buckley was particularly vociferous in his condemnation of what Walsh wrote.
In 1972, in the the ‘Rugby League World’ publication, Brod Regan wrote a story about the then Parramatta coach, Walsh under the heading: ‘Does Ian Walsh Go Overboard?’
That was in response to some of the things Walsh had said to his under-performing players, among them Test forwards, Keith Campbell and Bob O’Reilly.
“He (Walsh) plays the game of life as he did the game of football – hard and honest, with no beg pardons,” wrote Regan. “He’s a man’s man in the man’s world that is professional football. He asks no favors, speaks his mind and calls a spade a spade.
“Ian Walsh has been criticised from all sides recently for the statements he has made about the players under his control. He was even taken to task by his players.”
Walsh said some players were paid much more than their ability warranted.
Born at Parkes in Western New South Wales, Walsh was raised on farm at Bogan Gate. He started his senior career with Condoblin (under the coaching of former Newtown star, Norm Jacobsen) and then played for Parkes and Forbes, before becoming captain-coach of Eugowra, from where he was chosen for the 1959 Kangaroo tour of Britain, France and Italy.
It wasn’t until 1961, while touring New Zealand with the Australian side, that future ‘Immortals’, Reg Gasnier and Johnny Raper finally convinced Walsh to move to Sydney the following year.
He won five premierships in a row with St George; played 25 Tests for Australia and 19 times for New South Wales. He had made his representative debut for Western Division against the all-conquering 1951 French side, captained by Puig Aubert. Walsh was only 18 at the time.
His first home Test for Australia was a 31-12 loss to the Colin Hutton coached Great Britain side at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1962, a match in which former Wallaby, Mike Cleary and Queenslander, Bob Hagan made their Test debuts.
Australia’s effort was described as ‘purile’, by top league journalist, Jim Mathers.
“The plain fact is they played like schoolkids from a ragged boys’ home,’ Mathers wrote.
I’m sure Walsh would have appreciated his forthrightness.
1 Ian Walsh with ‘super coach’, Jack Gibson
2 Parramatta prop, Bob O’Reilly clashes with referee, Ritchie Humphreys. That’s hooker, John McMartin in the background
3 Pub poster in the main street of Forbes, New South Wales.