|Debut:||20-Aug-50, City Cup, (H) Drumcondra|
The Carrickmacross-born solicitors clerk Walter Durkan was the regular keeper with the County Monaghan Gaelic senior and minor teams when Sam Prole signed him for a very promising Dundalk Youths squad in 1950. They qualified for the semi final stages of both the FAI and Leinster Youth Cups, losing out to Dublin nurseries Johnville and Home Farm.
Walter and Sean McCarthy, another member of that squad, were selected on the Irish Youth team that defeated an English selection at Anfield, Liverpool in May 1950. Before a crowd of 20,000 the two Dundalk Youths had made handsome contributions to the 2-1 victory.
Walter made his first team debut in the opening day 1950-51 City Cup fixture against Drumcondra. Except for a half dozen games in the New Year, when George Brennan was between the sticks, Walter was first choice goalkeeper and at the end of the season he travelled with the Dundalk squad, under player-coach Pat Gallagher, to participate in five Festival of Britain games against English League teams.
The highlight of that first season came on St Stephens’ Day when the Leinster Senior Cup was annexed for the first time, after the club had five losing final day appearances stretching back to 1928-29.
The opening day fixture victory in the following season over Drumcondra gave Walter his second memento, when Dundalk brought the President’s Cup to Oriel Park after a 20-year lapse. But the best was yet to come. Nine months later, after a memorable six-match campaign, unfancied Dundalk collected the FAI Cup after defeating Cork Athletic in a replay.
In a team of heroes, the majority from the immediate locality, the performances of Walter were critical. In a 6-game 19-goal campaign that had notable incidents at every turn, the one that stands out was in the first round game at Oriel Park against St Patricks’ Athletic.
With the game tied, the English referee failed to see Walter scoop the ball out of the Dundalk net, three feet over the line, waved play on and three minutes later Dundalk took the lead and never looked back. To complete the year in style he and Fergus Moloney were on the League of Ireland team that defeated the USA in May 1952.
Walter was slow to sign for the following season and ended up playing with the reserves. He was back on first team duty before Christmas but following a distress call from Glenavon after ex-Dundalk keeper George Brennan broke a leg in a Christmas game, Walter was on his way to the Irish League club.
He went straight into a first team that had plenty of big names including Jimmy Jones (ex-Belfast Celtic), Wilbur Cush (ex-Leeds Utd) and ex-Dundalk Johnny Matthews. The appointment of Jimmy McAlinden as player-manager for the following season saw a dramatic improvement in Glenavon’s and Walter’s fortunes.
The City Cup, Ulster Cup and Gold Cup ended up on the club sideboard but there were heartbreaking runner up finishes in the big two of League and Irish Cup. The 3-0 Cup loss to complete outsiders Dundela, coupled with losing to Linfield in a League test match, brought a particularly disappointing end to an otherwise marvellous season.
For Walter there was also the reward of selection for the Irish League team in the 1954-55 year against both the English League, at Anfield, and the League of Ireland at Dalymount Park. In the same season he was also on the Irish League team that played the British Army Western Command team at Grosvenor Park in the company of two other ex-Dundalk players, Jimmy McEvoy (Distillery) and Tommy McCabe (Glentoran).
His last two seasons with Glenavon were bedevilled by injuries as a result of an accidental clash in the opening game of the 1955-56 year in a local derby against Portadown. The irony of it was that the injury resulted from a clash with his former Dundalk Cup-winning colleague, Johnny Fearon.
After emigrating to the USA in 1957, where he spent over 30 years as a sales engineer with a global manufacturing company of large electrical equipment, he continued his football involvement. He also renewed his GAA contacts, turning out with the Monaghan team.
On his retirement from playing in 1964 he turned to refereeing, becoming a referee official with the North American Soccer League in 1967 and retiring in 1980. Walter mixed his refereeing duties with coaching and in September 2001 he was honoured for his services by his induction into the Virginia-Washington Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony took place during a World Cup tie between the USA and Honduras in the Robert Kennedy Stadium, Washington.
This was his second such honour—in 1979 he was inducted into the Maryland Soccer Hall of Fame. One of his Washington teammates in the 1950s was Peter Mooney, better known under his pen name Pete St John. A frequent visitor back to Ireland, he joined his old comrades for the Oriel Park 2002 Reunion of the 1952 FAI Cup winning team.
3 wins: FAI Cup and Presidents Cup 1951-52; Leinster Cup 1950-51.
1 League of Ireland cap; 3 Irish League caps
1 Youth cap