Suburbs shocked as top striker quits

HEADING HOME: Young Nelson forward Alex Ridsdale watches as the departing Davitt Walsh shows Suburbs’ fans how a penalty is taken, against Western at Saxton Field.
HEADING HOME: Young Nelson forward Alex Ridsdale watches as the departing Davitt Walsh shows Suburbs’ fans how a penalty is taken, against Western at Saxton Field.

Nelson Suburbs' leading goal scorer will not play any more games in New Zealand this season.

Irish striker Davitt Walsh has cut his time short in Nelson and will leave on Monday to return home to Donegal for personal reasons. Club officials have been told why the talented targetman needs to leave urgently, but he did not wish to make the reason publicly known.

"I've got things I need to fix at home, so I need to get that done and I'll probably be back playing football when the season starts again back home in August," said Walsh.

With no game this weekend, due to the Chatham Cup round - Richmond AFC play Coastal Spirit at Jubilee Park on Sunday at 1pm - Walsh will leave a winner after scoring in Suburbs' 2-1 win against Western on Sunday. Arguably the best penalty strike at Saxton Stadium, it was Walsh's seventh goal in nine games for the sky blues.

The 27-year-old played as a professional for seven years in Ireland in the League of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Football League. His form in New Zealand had been noticed at higher levels with Canterbury United coach Sean Devine openly saying that he was looking for Walsh to play in the National League.

Walsh was a major contributing factor in a season turnaround that has seen AMI Nelson Suburbs recover from their worst start to a Mainland Premier League season to now sit one point from second place.

When Walsh arrived in a new country, jet-lagged and without a run with the side, he suited up for his new team and played in the second half of Suburbs' 8-0 loss against Cashmere Tech.

"When I first came, I didn't really know what I had let myself in for in the Tech game, because I was just off the plane," he said.

The team was committed to turning their fortunes around and Walsh was all too happy to help. He scored in their next match, a 3-1 loss to Western. It was an improved team effort and represented Nelson Suburbs' last loss. Since then, they have won every game, beating Cashmere and Western in the last two weeks.

"I'd like to think I brought a bit of professionalism and a winning mentality to the team.

"It's not a one-man team at all, it was a team effort. Everyone pulled their socks up and we worked hard. We turned it round and won seven on the bounce, which is brilliant, and hopefully the boys can go on and make it a season to remember."

While he is heading home, his involvement with the club will continue and he has not ruled out a return.

"I would love to come back and commit properly to Suburbs. It is just unfortunate that stuff at home has to be dealt with. But hopefully I can send a couple of players over every year to the club." Nelson Suburbs operations manager Gary Hinks said Walsh would continue to be a point of contact for Suburbs' club members heading to the UK and will also assist young Irish players wanting to visit Nelson in their off-season.

He also said the club remained hopeful of seeing Walsh back scoring goals on Saxton Field at some stage in the future.

"Davitt will be missed greatly both on and off the field," said Hinks. "His striking abilities have been obvious on the field, and his professional influence, particularly on the youngsters in the squad, has been an enabler in turning Suburbs' season around.

"We're very appreciative of what Davitt has managed to achieve for the club and, despite his visit being short, he leaves with our blessing and many new friendships having been formed."

Walsh said the camaraderie was strong at Nelson Suburbs and it was an aspect he would miss and enjoyed greatly during his time in Nelson.

"It has been a really good life experience, I'm glad I've done it. It is a beautiful place and the people have been really good to me, especially those in the football team, they have been top class.

"I think I have made friends here for life, to be honest. If I start naming names, I will be here all day, but the guys know who they are."

The Nelson Mail