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Tom Kiernan, Lions and Ireland former captain RIP

  • 03-02-2022 9:16pm
    Registered Users Posts: 5,301 ✭✭✭

    The Irish Times reports that Tom Kiernan, who captained Ireland on 24 occasions and also led the Lions Tour to South Africa in 1968 has passed away at the age of 83.

    I am old enough to have caught the tail end of his playing career which coincided with a relatively strong Irish team at a time when European rugby was probably at its peak compared with the southern hemisphere giants South Africa and New Zealand with the Lions winning successive Test Series in New Zealand in 1971 and South African in 1974.

    Kiernan was captain of the Irish Team that went to Cardiff in 1969 in search of a Grand Slam in its last match of the season but thanks to some dastardly Welsh skullduggery, and the emergence of some of the stars that would propel Wales to perhaps its greatest decade of achievement in the 1970s they lost out.

    Kiernan also captained the Irish team that won in Paris for the first time in 20 years in January 1972. Sadly, the real world intervened the following day with the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry and although Ireland subsequently won a thrilling match at Twickenham with a last minute try from Kevin Flynn (who also passed away only a few weeks ago) the fraught atmosphere of the time ultimately caused the Scottish and Welsh teams to decline to travel to Dublin for their fixtures so a very real opportunity to win a championship/Triple Crown/Grand Slam disappeared into the file marked "What Might Have Been".

    By that stage of his career, although he had a stellar reputation, Kiernan was something of an anachronism. He was a classic full back of the old school: a last line of defence who remained in the back field, caught any high ball that came his way and found his touch safely which given the laws of the 1960s meant he could welly it into touch from anywhere and the lineout would take place where the ball crossed the line. But the change in the Laws in the late 1960s, which discouraged kicking directly into touch from outside one's own 25 (as it was then called) had a dramatic effect on the role of full back. It encouraged full backs who would run the ball back rather than kick it straight into touch and lose ground and it is no coincidence that some of the great attacking full backs emerged at about this time: JPR Williams of Wales, Pierre Villepreux of France and Andy Irvine of Scotland.

    Never blessed with the most blistering of pace and well into his 30s, Kiernan continued to play to his strengths amid clamours for a more adventurous player to at least try to play the role that the laws were demanding of a modern full back. He was still the captain and main place kicker, he still had enormous clout and it is perhaps ironic that his reward for finally scoring a try against Scotland, that came close to winning a tight game before a late Scottish score, should be rewarded with his being dropped for the last two games of his final season in 1973.

    As a coach, perhaps his finest hour was coaching the Munster team which defeated the 1978 All Blacks in Thomond Park. The book Stand Up and Fight by Alan English gives an excellent in-depth account of the meticulous preparation that Kiernan undertook to get the team ready to become the only Irish side (well only male Irish side) ever to beat New Zealand until the national side finally broke its duck in Chicago 38 years later.

    As an administrator he had much to do with establishing the European Rugby Cup in which the Irish provinces participated and managing to fight off the more self-serving demands of the powerful French and English clubs. That is a fight that is still ongoing and for a new generation to continue. He also played a leading role in the largely successful, at least so far, transition of rugby in Ireland from a strictly amateur to full time professional game. Nothing like having an astute single minded Corkman in your corner for that sort of task.

    He will almost certainly be honoured with a minute's silence or a round of applause before the start of Irelands game with Wales this Saturday.

    It will be well deserved. Truly one of the great servants of Irish rugby.


  • Registered Users Posts: 5,893 ✭✭✭jacothelad

    A rugby giant. A true hero of Irish rugby for decades.

  • Registered Users Posts: 23,621 ✭✭✭✭phog

    From what I know of him he was one of the better guys who wore the Blazer after retiring from playing. He seemed to have put some thought into what was best for rugby too. If it wasn't his idea he was certainly very warm to the idea of pushing for a european club rugby competition and that is what made the 4 provinces what they are.

    In Munster he'll be forever remembered as the man who led them to beating the ABs in '78.

  • Registered Users Posts: 5,301 ✭✭✭Snickers Man

    Speaking of which, here's that try he scored in his last match for Ireland. Mind you, I wonder what a TMO might have made of it. In those days the referee, not the video camera, was "the sole arbiter of fact and law."