...Ollie Campbell - the 22-times capped former Ireland out-half...
The last ever RBS 6 Nations game in the old Lansdowne Road takes place on Saturday. Here, former Ireland out-half Ollie Campbell talks about some of his memories of the Dublin 4 venue.
Surprisingly, only 10 of Ollie Campbell's 22 Ireland caps came at Lansdowne Road. But such is the enduring affinity he maintains for the famed Dublin 4 venue which hosts its last Six Nations match on Saturday before redevelopment, the former out-half claims he will be take many fond memories to his grave.
Rightly so. As is the case with all Irish icons that showcased their talent at world rugby's
oldest Test match arena, numerous jaw-dropping moments in Campbell's life are connected with
the ground he describes as a "mecca."
Its existence became fully apparent to him on December 7, 1963, the date the then nine-year-old,
accompanied by his father Ollie senior, watched from the West Stand Upper as Johnny
Fortune scored an Ireland try before a late Don Clarke penalty sealed New Zealand's 6-5 win.
"That was one of those defining days, just going along for first time and being hooked on rugby
virtually from that moment on."
And Campbell was truly hooked. Why else would he have, for years, kept in a plastic bag in his bedroom the mud from the boots he wore helping Belvedere College win the 1971 Leinster Schools Cup final in his first Lansdowne Road appearance as a player?
Then in 1973, the year after another provincial schools victory, a final in which he scored his first try at the ground, came a memory which the very mention of still makes the hairs on the back of his neck
The occasion? England's visit to Dublin during the Troubles. "There was such emotion, gratitude and admiration all so rolled into one for the English team that day," he recalled. "That was certainly a very poignant moment."
Adding to the magic of John Pullin's England daring to come where Scotland and Wales refused in 1972 is the fact that Campbell shouldn't have been there that day. He had no ticket. "My dad was allowed to drive down Lansdowne Road, drop myself and Albert Horton, an elderly man, outside and I was only to talk my way in, bring Mr. Horton up to his seat and then leave the ground. But I didn't leave. I ended up sitting on the steps of the West Upper and as long as I'll live I will never forget the applause once the English team ran out. It really does to this day send a shiver up the spine, and I also remember how Ireland captain Willie John McBride, sensing what was happening, held back his team from running out so that the applause rang out even more."
Nine years later, Campbell himself orchestrated the applause. Because his father's initial rugby interest was aroused by the 1948 Grand Slam and the Triple Crown a year later, the Campbell household in North Dublin's Malahide was reared on the exploits of Jackie Kyle, Karl Mullen, Des O'Brien, George Norton and others.
...Jim McCarthy, Jack Kyle, Paddy Reid, Jimmy Nelson, Karl Mullen and Michael O'Flanagan - all members of the 1948 Grand Slam side - Ollie Campbell was reared on their exploits...
But February 20, 1982, spawned a fresh batch of heroes as Ireland bridged the 33-year gap by winning a Triple Crown made even more special as the win over Scotland was the first time the achievement was sealed at Lansdowne Road.
...Ireland's 1982 Triple Crown-winning captain Ciaran Fitzgerald...
"The crowd willed us to victory," remarked Campbell, scorer of all his side's 21 points in a triumph that generated more interest in the country than the coinciding general election. "It wasn't the greatest game played at Lansdowne Road but it certainly had one of the best atmospheres ever. We turned around 15-6 ahead at half-time and one of my memories is that the crowd on the old East Stand Upper was on its feet singing Molly Malone for virtually the whole of the second-half."
..."Alive Alive Oh, Alive Alive Oh, Crying Cockles and Mussels, Alive Alive Oh" - the Triple Crown win in 1982...
"That was the sort of stuff you would hardly even dream about as a kid and it's fair to say that for
that team life has never really been quite the same since.That was a defining day in my life, in all of our lives."
For sure, it was the pinnacle of Campbell's playing career. But other Lansdowne Road snapshots
include getting dropped following his Irish debut against Australia in 1976, shaving an upright with a late penalty in Old Belvedere's narrowly lost 1981 Leinster Cup final, setting up Moss Finn for a try against Wales in 1982, and the way the crowd rose to acclaim him when replaced by the equally popular Tony Ward versus England in 1983.
"That cheer was probably 50/50, cheering for me as I was going off and cheering for him as he came
A year later, his Ireland career concluded on the afternoon the present day East Stand opened for
the first time. And while he has religiously attended nearly every Lansdowne Road international
since then, he does admit it took time to come to terms with no longer being capable of running out
onto the pitch as a player.
But that's an experience that will be denied to all next year when the ground temporarily closes for redevelopment. "It will be a sad day. While it is time for it to be developed, the memories anyone has of it will be there for a very long time," reckoned the 52-year-old Campbell, who added that his best Lansdowne Road days since retirement were Michael Kiernan's Triple Crown-winning drop goal in 1985, Gordon Hamilton's World Cup try versus Australia in 1991, the Triple Crown success of 2004 against today's opponents Scotland, and Belvedere College's Leinster Cup final win a year ago.
...Michael Kiernan celebrate that drop goal against England in 1985...
...That try from Gordon Hamilton against Australia at the 1991 Rugby World Cup...
...Triple Crown 2004 - Ireland win at home to Scotland...
...Ollie Campbell's beloved Belvedere College bridge the gap by winning the Leisnter Schools Senior Cup in 2005...
"It was interesting in the build-up to the Grand Slam game of 2003 that England commented how
much they loved Lansdowne Road," he continued. "All the other grounds they were playing in were these state-of-the-art stadiums. But Lansdowne Road they loved because it is so old world, so
different and has this old-style character which is quite unique.
"The memories people have of Lansdowne will be there for a very long time," Campbell added.
The talk is endless about the memories of the many matches played there for the last 100 years and more.
They are memories that won't ever be lost.
**All photos by Inpho Photography**