Joe Walsh 'almost gave up football' before Barker offered him a trial
MK Dons defender Joe Walsh is on the brink of his first international appearance, but almost quit the game all together six years ago.
The 24-year-old was called up to Chris Coleman's squad to face Serbia in a World Cup qualifier on Monday, making him ineligible for Dons' game at home against Walsall on Saturday.
Walsh began his career as an apprentice at Swansea, but after being released as an 18-year-old, was considering quitting the game completely if his trial at Crawley Town was unsuccessful.
The Crawley Town manager at the time would turn out to be a familiar face for Walsh: current Dons caretaker boss Richie Barker.
"I gave him a trial years ago at Crawley," Barker said. "And when I look back at the 18-year-old I saw saying sorry for being late because he got lost on the way to the training ground, to seeing him on the bench for his first international game, I feel very proud seeing him come on so much.
"He came on trial for a week. He and his family made it very clear to me that if I didn't offer him a one year contract, he may have packed the game in and do something else. He was falling out of love with the game after being released by Swansea as an apprentice.
"And they're the positives of the game, you get to change somebody's life."
Walsh's first call-up to the Wales squad leaves Barker thin on the ground at the back for Saturday's clash with the Saddlers - something not lost on the defender, who offered to turn down the opportunity to play in the crunch League 1 match.
Barker added: "It was a blow to lose Joe. He has been arguably one of our most consistent performers.
"When I spoke to him on Monday night, he told me he wanted to stay here and help us on Saturday. It was a tough decision for him.
"He told me if he had a chance to play for Wales he'd go, but if not, he wanted to stay here. He'll be a miss for us, but someone has the chance to replace him and it's up to them to take that chance."
Without Walsh though, Barker feels he has enough options to field a decent back line, even if it means chopping and changing personnel.
He said: "We've got options - moving Dean Lewington inside, George B Williams has played as full back on both sides, or obviously playing Jack Hendry and Paul Downing. We'll sort that out in training in the next couple of days and see what works."