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Seasoned Walsh ready for finals push

Boasting more appearances than any other player in UEFA Regions' Cup history, Leinster & Munster captain James Walsh is "itching to get started" as the finals get under way in Portugal.

James Walsh made his debut in the competition almost nine years ago
James Walsh made his debut in the competition almost nine years ago ©Sportsfile

"I'm really looking forward to getting into it," Leinster & Munster captain James Walsh told UEFA.com at the beachside UEFA Regions' Cup headquarters in northern Portugal. "We've been here since Saturday, and were itching to get started."

Such eagerness might seem surprising from a man so well versed in the rigours of international amateur football. With 19 outings to his name - the first of which was way back in October 2002 - the centre-back holds the distinction of being the competition's all-time record appearance holder.

Unaware of his status atop the charts, Walsh told UEFA.com: "The standard has got better but what is also noticeable is how the tournaments have grown in prestige. From 2002 to now, the difference in terms of media coverage, facilities and stadiums has increased considerably.

"It has grown into a must-have for amateur footballers. It's tremendous playing in this tournament because you bring back great stories and make long-lasting friendships with some of the players."

A veteran of two final tournaments, Poland in 2005 and Croatia two years ago, the 34-year-old cites scoring his first international goal, against a San Marinese representative XI in qualifying for the 2005 edition, as one of his career highlights.

That is one of eight goals he has managed in the competition; one more in Portugal, where his side kick off their Group B tilt against Ankara in Group B on Tuesday, would make him the competition's joint all-time top scorer too.

"I didn't know that either," admitted Walsh, who converted two penalties in a 3-0 victory against Ligue de Normandie in the intermediary round which booked Gerry Smith's squad a place here in the Minho region. "Hopefully I can surpass that this week."

Hailing from Tipperary, around two hours from Dublin, Walsh juggles playing in Ireland's fourth tier for St Michael's FC with working full time as an IT consultant. Though the work-football relationship is a "tough balance" to strike, Walsh would not have it any other way.

"I might get up and go out to work at seven in the morning and then not get back in until 10.30 in the evening but that's the way it is," he said. "At our level the UEFA Regions' Cup is how we represent our country, so as an amateur player in Ireland there's no better feeling than pulling on the green jersey."

Walsh will do that in Barcelos on Tuesday before encountering Serbian outfit Belgrade and South Region Russia later in Group B. While Leinster & Munster "want to come out of it as champions of Europe, that's the dream for us all," Walsh is keen for the week on the Atlantic coast not to pass him by.

"It gives you the insight into the life of a professional footballer," he said. "Everything is on hand, from food to a massage and the beach, where we can enjoy the sun. It's fantastic because next week we'll go back to our nine-to-five jobs or whatever we do. For UEFA to give us this opportunity is tremendous and long may it last."