Walsh making strides in Bit O’ Red career

Conor Walsh has made great strides in his career this year, making appearances in the first-team and being with the Republic of Ireland Under-19 side on international duty last month.

Having firmly established himself as a member of the Rovers senior squad, international honours continue to come.

He has represented his country moving up through the age groups at under-15, under-16, under-17, under-18 and now at under-19 grade.

Conor attended Rice College in Westport and completed his Leaving Certificate this summer, but he also had a term at Summerhill College last year before the tragic passing of his oldest brother Stephen in March 2022.

While at Rice College he was coached by Gearoid Duffy and Brendan Clarke as well as Joe Kelly, Kieran O’Hora, Michael Gibbons and Padraic Burns at Westport.

Conor, who turned 18 in March this year, takes up the story dealing with the shock, sadness and grief that surrounded the sudden passing of his brother.

“I lost my older brother Stephen last year, he was only 22 and he passed away suddenly on 24th March,” explained Conor.

“That was a very sad time for all of us, my parents, Martin and Margaret, and my other brother Ray.

“It’s still quite raw for us all, but we have to try to get through it as best we can, but it was a very difficult time for all of us and we got great support from the local community,” he added.

A death in a family suddenly puts things in perspective, what is important and what isn’t, and that’s something that has helped Conor focus on different aspects of his life and what he wants to achieve.

“My parents are proud of what I have achieved so far in terms of my football career and signing for Sligo Rovers was a huge occasion for all the family, including my late brother Stephen,” explained Conor.

“I intend to focus on my football for the moment, I got my Leaving Cert results there in August, so I have the education bit completed, but I suppose going to third level is an option also.

“I signed my first professional contract when I was 16 and I’ve been with the first team panel for the last few seasons.

“I started with my local club, Westport Utd, when I was seven years old, I also played Gaelic football with Westport and won a couple of juvenile titles, but we had a strong team.

“I started as an outfield player, but one day, there was no goalkeeper and I said I’d give it a go, I think I was about 11 at that stage and I found that I really enjoyed it.

“I played in the Kennedy Cup for Mayo and Conor O’Grady saw me there and that was where the connection with Sligo Rovers was established

“I played for the Republic of Ireland when I was with Westport Utd.“I also played in the under-age League of Ireland with Mayo Schoolboys’ League, Brendan Kenny was the manager at under-15 before I went to the Sligo Rovers Academy.

“Secondary school was in Westport, Rice College, but I also did fifth year in Summerhill College here in Sligo as I had signed for Sligo Rovers.

“I stayed with Mairead and Damien Grimes here in Sligo, very nice people and very helpful and I really appreciated that.

“When my brother passed away, I went back to Rice College and did my exams there this year.

“Now, I commute to Sligo from Westport every day, it’s a little over a 100 miles round trip, but I drive and it’s not a major issue with the by-pass around Castlebar,” he added.

Looking at the present season, Conor is very direct and focused on the requirements for the remaining series of games.

“We have to keep putting points on the board between now and the end of the season, the next game is always the most important game,” stated Conor.

“I had to step up to the mark when Luke (McNicholas) made the move to Wrexham and I started in the game away to Dundalk in early August.

“The senior players here at the club have been brilliant in the way they have helped me make the adjustment from the bench.

“It’s something that I’m enjoying and it was great to get a chance, I was recovering from an ankle injury in the early part of the season and both Luke and Richard Brush were great with the way they helped me.

“I had played some games for the under-19s and I also got a run in that friendly a while back against Celtic.

“That helped in the building process as I recovered from the injury that I picked up (ankle ligaments), it was something that happened during training in February, but I didn’t realise it for a few weeks.

“I had to go for a scan and the last thing you need as a footballer is an injury, but it’s all part of the game.

“We’ve had a lot of injuries at the club, a very unlucky season in that respect, it’s very frustrating but you have to keep your headspace clear and stay focused,” he suggested.

In conclusion, he reflected on the current season:

“It has been a tough season, but we are all working hard and hopefully we will pick up our form and finish well.

“Separately, I was on duty with the Republic of Ireland under-19s in Bosnia & Herzegovina for two friendlies in September.

“It was good to be away with the team, it was a great honour, a great experience and hopefully I will be able to maintain progress at both the club and at international level,” he concluded.

Conor Walsh was speaking in the Sligo Rovers match programme for the game against Derry City