Leinster and Argentina star Felipe Contepomi was named as the Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year at a luncheon in the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel in Killiney, Dublin on Monday.
Reigning AIB League Division One champions, Garryowen, were voted Club of the Year and the Tom Rooney award for making an exceptional contribution to the game went to Phil Orr, the former Ireland and Lions prop who was also manager of the Grand Slam-winning Ireland Under-20 squad, which won the Dave Guiney perpetual award as Team of the Year.
The two new members inducted to the Guinness Hall of Fame were hooker Ken Kennedy and free-scoring winger Alan Duggan.
Michael Whelan of Guinness and Peter O’Reilly, chairman of the Rugby Writers of Ireland, jointly presented the awards.
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2006/07 GUINNESS RUGBY WRITERS OF IRELAND AWARD WINNERS:
FELIPE CONTEPOMI (PLAYER OF THE YEAR) –
Never mind that he did much to disrupt Ireland’s World Cup ambitions, the Irish rugby public holds Felipe Contepomi in great regard. The question as to whether he is of better use in the centre than out-half will continue to be debated.
Clearly, Argentina, for whom he has played 60 times since being first capped in 1998, believe that he is best employed in the inside centre spot where he proved himself to be one of the best backs on show in the World Cup. The fact that he was in the final list for the World Player of the Year says it all.
But let’s not forget Contepomi has also produced a succession of outstanding performances for Leinster since his arrival in Dublin to continue his medical studies. He has huge talent, pace, good feet, outstanding passing skills and the strength of a back row forward. There’s also that fierce competitive spirit which means that Contepomi desperately wants to win every game, whether it is in the Magners League or World Cup.
When asked about taking over the goal kicking duties at Leinster following the departure of David Holwell back to New Zealand, the quietly spoken Argentinean commented that he couldn’t be compared to the accurate Holwell. He was wrong.
Contepomi wasted no time in getting to grips with that part of his game, and he has developed into one of the best place kickers in the game. In short, his move to Leinster from Bristol has been a huge plus for Irish rugby. If you need any more convincing, just ask Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll.
GARRYOWEN (CLUB OF THE YEAR) –
For once, Shannon lost out for the Club of the Year award. But few could argue with the decision of the rugby writers and broadcasters to opt for their arch rivals Garryowen this time around.
They completed a memorable senior treble by capturing the Munster Senior Cup, the AIB Cup and the AIB League Division One title. Yet, for some time, it looked as if they were going to miss out on qualifying for the AIB League semi-finals.
Having comfortably defeated Belfast Harlequins in the AIB Cup final at Dubarry Park, they found themselves in a real battle to make it into the league play-offs.
Once there, however, they knew they were in with a real chance. Garryowen’s response, under the captaincy of Paul Neville, was to defeat Cork Constitution at Musgrave Park in the decider to cap a truly wonderful season.
PHIL ORR (TOM ROONEY AWARD FOR EXCEPTIONAL CONTRIBUTION) –
Following a memorable playing career with Dublin University, Old Wesley, Leinster, Ireland and the Lions, Phil Orr is now proving just as effective at the administration side of the game.
In all, he made 58 appearances for Ireland between 1976 and 1987, at the time a world record for a prop. The highlights came in the two Irish Triple Crown successes of 1982 and 1985. He also featured for the Lions and represented Ireland in the 1987 World Cup.
More recently, Phil has managed successful Leinster Under-21 and Under-20 teams. But it was his part as manager of the Ireland Under-20 side which won the Grand Slam earlier this year which understandably gave him the most satisfaction.
IRELAND UNDER-20S (DAVE GUINEY AWARD FOR TEAM OF THE YEAR) –
To capture the Grand Slam at this level was a truly remarkable achievement, for all sorts of reasons, not least was the fact that some of the opposition was represented by Under-21 teams. In truth, not many people could have imagined they would pull it off, especially as they had to do without one of their star performers in Luke Fitzgerald.
But, typically, the individual who came in to replace him at full-back, Felix Jones, played out of his skin. Huge credit must go to coach Eric Elwood and his assistant Dan McFarland. The never say die attitude of the team was emphasised when they came form behind to open their campaign by defeat Wales 19-16 away.
There then followed Dubarry Park victories over a French Under-21 side (19-16) and England (13-6), before they made sure of the Triple Crown by accounting for Scotland (31-8) at Falkirk.
So, all that remained was the task of getting the better of Italy away in their final game. This Naples encounter wasn’t as straightforward as it looked, given that Italy was represented by an Under-21 team, and had already won three games. Worryingly, the Irish boys trailed 20-7 at one stage but hit back to win 36-25 and claim the Grand Slam.
KEN KENNEDY (GUINNESS HALL OF FAME) –
Ken Kennedy, one of Ireland’s greatest ever hookers, made his international debut against France in a 3-3 draw at Lansdowne Road in 1965. At club level he started with Queen’s University, before enjoying a great career at London Irish. In total, Ken won 45 caps, which at the time of his retirement in 1975 was a world record for a hooker.
He also played with great distinction for the Lions, winning four caps on the 1966 tour to New Zealand and Australia. Unfortunately, he then had to miss out on the 1968 Lions tour because of injury. A medical student at Queen’s when he made his international debut, Kennedy featured strongly in some magnificent Irish triumphs, none better than the 14-9 success over France at Stade Colombes in 1972. It was Ireland’s first victory in Paris in 20 years.
The team was an odd mixture of the old and the new. On the one hand, there were Tom Kiernan, Kevin Flynn, Mike Gibson, Ray McLoughlin, Kennedy and Willie John McBride, whose combined total of international appearances amounted to over 200, while, on the other, there were no fewer than five new caps.
Kennedy also featured on an Irish championship-winning side in 1974, the first time that Ireland had won the championship in 23 years.
ALAN DUGGAN (GUINNESS HALL OF FAME) –
There have been few better finishers in Irish rugby history than Alan ‘Dixie’ Duggan. He seemed to make the best of any chance, or half chance that came his way.
The Lansdowne winger made his international debut in the toughest of matches against New Zealand in 1963. He had to wait until the following season’s game against France before making his next appearance. It wasn’t until the 1967 season that he got a sustained run in the Irish team.
Once he did, he showed a great talent for finishing off moves, and was also especially dangerous when looking for an intercept. No team was more aware of his finishing ability than the Scots. No fewer than six of Duggan’s 11 international tries came against Scotland, so they must have been delighted to have seen the back of him.
In all, Duggan scored 11 tries in 25 Irish appearances. When you take into account how low scoring the games often were in that era, that is a hugely impressive statistic. Leinster also, of course, benefited from Duggan’s finishing ability. He made his final Irish appearance against France in 1972.