South Grafton?s 1967 grand final squad back row (from left) Bob Buchanan (trainer), Viv Hodge (captain coach), Michael Jones, B
South Grafton?s 1967 grand final squad back row (from left) Bob Buchanan (trainer), Viv Hodge (captain coach), Michael Jones, B

A rugby league ?bottler

PHILLIP (JB) Walsh had an early introduction to rugby league, as a toddler accompanying his father to McKittrick Park to watch games in the early 1950s.

His father, the original JB, ie John Braham Walsh, was president of the South Grafton Rugby League Football Club at the time.

Phillip followed in his father's footsteps and in the late 1980s, early 1990s was also president of the South Grafton Rugby League Club.

It was only a few years after his father first took him to games that Phillip was a ball boy at local matches. He took the job with pride and with all the enthusiasm and passion that the players showed on the football arena.

Besides watching the big boys strut their stuff, Phillip was playing pick-up league with other boys who rushed onto the field during the half-time periods and then as a young student at St Joseph's Convent in the 'Town' area of South Grafton.

He has been in involved in many sports and many public activities over the years, even played and coached a bit of rugby union, but there is no doubt league has always been his great sporting love and a sport in which he excelled.

He was a dynamic and gifted footballer who could play anywhere on the field from second row through to fullback and kick goals from any angle.

He represented Group One and North Coast and coached club Under-18s and Group One Under-17, Under-18 and Under-19 sides.

Phillip was also a top class school athlete and swimmer, competed in junior cycling and was strongly into surfing.

He remembers winning a unique event, a combined running and board paddling race, during one Jacaranda Festival. It was a contest which started outside Weileys Hotel with the big field of competitors carrying their boards and sprinting along Prince Street to the rowing club sheds, paddling to the tip of Susan Island and back and finishing with the three blocks run back to Weileys.

Besides sporting activities Phillip has been a gold fossicker and is an avid collector of bottles, bottles from the commonplace to the exotic.

Phillip Beresford Walsh was born at Grafton's Runnymede Hospital in January 1948, son of John Braham (Jack) and Inez Mavis (nee Stewart) Walsh of South Grafton.

His father was a prominent businessman and a leading bookmaker in the district, owned racehorses and greyhounds, was an A grade lawn bowler with the South Grafton Bowling Club and had been a champion cyclist in his youth.

He also played football and was a foundation member and president of the Grafton Cycle Club and is regarded as the man responsible for getting the original ant bed (later bitumen) cycle track installed at McKittrick Park in the 1930s.

In the 1950s, Jack (JB) Walsh became president of the South Grafton Rugby League Club and in the 1960s together with good mate, Steve Bellamy, was honoured with Life Membership of the Club.

Phillip Walsh has been a big enough star in his own right, but in honour of his father, the name Phillip is more often shortened to the two letters J B, a title he prefers and carries with pride.

Phillip's schooling was at St Joseph's Infants and Primary at South Grafton and St Mary's College in Grafton.

He played plenty of rugby league and cricket, was strongly to the fore in track and field athletics and swimming, winning many of the schools championships in each.

In 1962 as a 14-year-old he played what was known at the time as Sub Junior (Under-16) rugby league turning out with South Grafton and he recalls in the same team were the Hearfield twins, Ron and Ray and Ray Hickey, along with Walshie giving the side tremendous speed.

The following year Phil went over to play for a united team, coached by George Mawhinney, a combination of South Grafton and United rugby league club youngsters wearing green jumpers, who won the area sub junior premiership.

In that grand final on the Grafton Showground the combined side beat the Grafton Boys Club team which also included many fine footballers such as a young John Brown.

After his schooling finished in 1963 the young JB worked for McKittricks store in Skinner Street, South Grafton for a few months and then was indentured as an apprentice (five years those days) carpenter/joiner with the Reg J Want Company.

Phillip, or JB if you prefer, gained his Trade Certificate and remained with the company for some time as a fully-fledged tradesman.

It was in the mid-1970s that he gained a building licence and set up on his own and he has been self employed ever since, these days trading as Phil Walsh Demolition.

In 1965 young JB played for the Rebels Under-18 team and was coached by the magical Paul Pyers.

The following year Phillip made his first grade debut replacing the injured Rod Hankinson in the Paul Hassab captain/coached South Grafton team against the big, fast and physical Woodburn team.

JB played centre in that McKittrick Park encounter and was called on to defuse the sky high bombs of a gifted Richard Roberts, one of the biggest and the toughest men in local league.

Phillip did that job well, scored a try and kicked two goals in the Rebels' 15-4 win.

That was the initial year of the Richmond Clarence competition of Group One and South Grafton was the only Clarence side to make the play-offs finishing fourth.

They lost out to Marist Brothers in the minor semi-final and Brothers went on to win the premiership beating hot favourites Casino 18-10 in the grand final at Lismore.

In 1967 JB scored his share of tries but Trevor Gleeson and Roy Gordon were the preferred kickers.

Floods in June/July put McKittrick Park out of operation from round 11 onward and Fisher Park in Grafton became the Rebels home ground.

John Plummer was captain/coach in 1968 and JB was back in favour as goal kicker and started the season in spectacular manner landing seven from eight in the opening game helping The Rebels beat Lower Clarence 32-5 in Maclean.

South Grafton won 12 of their 18 games to take fourth spot on the ladder.

JB passed the century mark in points in those 18 rounds and then kicked six out of six goals in the minor semi-final and with Terry Stevens and Ken Hayes each scoring tries the Rebels beat Marist Brothers by one point, 18-17, before losing out to South Lismore in the preliminary final.

Phillip passed the century of points again in 1969 with South Grafton, led again by John Plummer and once more making the semi finals.

There was another century for JB in the 1970 season when Viv Hodge was captain/coach and the Rebels reached the grand final only to be beaten 12-5 by Grafton Ghosts on a Grafton Showground quagmire.

Although South Grafton could only finish sixth in the 1971 season Phillip Walsh kept up his good work passing the 100-point mark for the fourth season in a row.

1972 was the year the Rebels broke through for their first premiership since joining the Richmond-Clarence competition in 1966, but injuries saw JB more out of the first grade side than in, and Graham Skinner, Kevin Stevens and Ray Pereira did most of the goal kicking that year.

That included three goals for Pereira in the grand final when Rebels won 19-6 over Kyogle.

JB was back in action again in 1973 scoring a try and booting 16 goals in the first two matches, winning 33-28 against Western Suburbs and 32-12 against Casino but again injury struck and he did not play again that year.

The Rebels finished eighth and the Darcy Goode prepared Lower Clarence won the premiership.

JB played only intermittently after that and had his final league game in the early stages of the 1977 season when Harry Reed was coach.

JB coached the Grafton Redmen rugby union side in 1987 and was playing for the Thirsty Thirds team until dislocating an ankle and retiring from playing.

Phillip has been married twice, the first in 1970 to noted dancer Lindi Freyer, but it did nor work out.

From the marriage there is a son Mitchell who lives in Japan and plays rugby and a daughter, Yasmin who is living on the Queensland Gold Coast.

His second marriage to representative hockey player Wendy Freeman has proved lasting and they have a daughter Kimberley and son Zachery (Zac), both now living and working overseas in London.

Wendy works in the office in the demolition and recycling business.

JB first became interested in bottle collecting as a hobby, finding plenty while he was working around the district on various construction jobs and particularly excavating old construction sites.

"I was also doing some gold panning as a hobby and while I enjoyed it I have to admit I found more bottles than gold," he said.

Bottle collecting is not just a hobby throughout the world, but is a passion with many and a thriving industry in itself with displays and inter-club, state and national titles.

Similar to his sports prowess JB has been to the fore in bottle displays, winning several State and Australian Championship awards and when not displaying is accredited as a national judge.

He helped kick off the Grafton Antique Bottle Club some years ago, was the foundation president and has held various other offices at different times.

He is still an avid follower of sport, particularly when the Rebels play, but admits that this year due to a heavy workload he has been finding it difficult to attend matches 'although I have been following their progress'.

"When Wendy and I finish the construction work on our new premises I should find things a bit easier in getting back to watch the weekend matches," he said.

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