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It Was 60 Years Ago Today

It Was 60 Years Ago Today

March 13, 1948, at Ravenhill. Ireland 6 Wales 3. Ireland battled their way to a Triple Crown and Grand Slam. IrishRugby.ie pays tribute to the team that completed this remarkable achievement.

Despite Ireland’s loss to Wales at Croke Park last Saturday there was still something to celebrate as the surviving members of the 1948 Triple Crown and Grand Slam side were hosted at a special anniversary event.

Eight of the team are still alive and six of them were present on the day – Jack Kyle, Bertie O’Hanlon, Michael O’Flanagan, Jimmy Nelson, Jim McCarthy and Paddy Reid. Unfortunately Colm Callan and Karl Mullen were unable to attend but were represented on the day by family.

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The men of ’48 were also joined at various stages of the day by former opponents including Bleddyn Williams and Jack Matthews.

To mark the 60th anniversary today, IrishRugby.ie is featuring the special anniversary article penned by Edmund Van Esbeck for last Saturday’s match programme.

Alone They Stand

Edmund Van Esbeck

When the Ireland team set out on the championship trail in 1948 there was more hope than confidence that they would have a successful season. The doubts were born after a very indifferent performance against Australia in December 1947, when Ireland lost 16-3.

I have a very vivid recollection of that match. It was my first visit to Lansdowne Road having travelled to the match from my home in Cork with my late brother Frank.

The remedial action taken by the selectors was to make no fewer than six changes but there was just one new cap with Jim McCarthy, the flame-haired flanker from the Dolphin club, being named in the back row.

France 6 IRELAND 13

Stade Colombes
January 1, 1948

France presented the opposition at the Stade Colombes and remarkably, the match was played in midweek. Ireland had lost to France the previous season in Dublin 12-8. This time Ireland swept the French away and won 13-6, with McCarthy marking an excellent debut by scoring a try. Centre Paddy Reid and left winger Barney Mullan also scored a try each, while Mullan kicked two conversions.

A feature of that team was that it included five men who were either medical students or qualified doctors – the entire front row of Jimmy Corcoran, Karl Mullen and Arthur Albert (AA) McConnell, one more in the back row in Bill McKay and the font from which so much brilliance flowed, the incomparable Jack Kyle.

And here I take the liberty of diverting from my brief. When I was asked at the end of the last century by the sports editor of the Irish Times to select my Irish player of the century, without hesitation I named Kyle. He was my hero as a schoolboy, now in the evening of my age nothing has changed.

England 10 IRELAND 11

February 14, 1948

Ireland’s next task was to face England at Twickenham and how I remember listening to that match on the radio as Ireland hung on to win 11-10. Ireland had actually made five changes from the team that beat France.

Jack Mattson replaced Dudley Higgins at full-back, Hugh de Lacy came in for Ernie Strathdee at scrum half, John Christopher Daly replaced Corcoran at prop, Jimmy Nelson took over from Ernie Keeffe in the second row and Des O’Brien was at number 8 for Bob Agar. But there was also one other highly significant alteration, as Karl Mullen was the new captain. Strathdee had led the side against France. Mullen brought his own special leadership qualities to bear as Ireland sought glory.

IRELAND 6 Scotland 0

Lansdowne Road
February 28, 1948

When Scotland came to Dublin on February 28, yet again came alteration. Higgins was recalled at full-back and Michael O’Flanagan came into the centre for Reid. O’Flanagan, whose brother Kevin had played against Australia, was also a soccer international and like his brother a man of rounded sporting talents.

Ireland won readily enough by 6-0, with Barney Mullan and Jack Kyle scoring tries. It is one of my great sporting memories that I was at that match.

Such had been the sequence of events in the series that Ireland’s victory meant they had won the championship. But it was the Triple Crown that was the cherished prize and one that had eluded all Irish sides for 49 years.

IRELAND 6 Wales 3

March 13, 1948

How well I remember the build up to the match against Wales, scheduled for Ravenhill on March 13. Even those with little or no interest in rugby were captivated by the prospects that lay ahead. 

Those immediate post war years were austere and sport was a wonderful outlet for people. But Wales had been Ireland’s bogey team very often. On no fewer than eight previous occasions they foiled Ireland at the final hurdle, including the previous year in Swansea.

When the great day came, Ireland lined out with two changes. Reid was recalled at centre for O’Flanagan and Strathdee was back at scrum half.

The onslaught from the pack and the brilliance of Kyle gave Ireland the territorial advantage in the first half. But that ended at 3-3, with Barney Mullan’s try for Ireland matched by one for Wales from their great centre Bleddyn Williams.

With the excitement at fever pitch, Ireland struck early in the second half when J.C. Daly got the vital score after a mistake by the Welsh full-back. The Irish pack drove forward with the energy and courage that had characterised their display all afternoon. Trott, the Welsh full-back, got to the ball but was unable to hold it and the irrepressible Daly was on hand to capitalise and send a nation into ecstasy.

Now in the lead, the Irish kept the Welsh at bay – this time there would be no slip-up. With the forwards in command and Kyle to orchestrate the tactics behind the scrum, Ireland prevailed and a nation rejoiced.

In those days there was no talk about a Grand Slam. Indeed not one contemporary report of the match mentioned it. The Triple Crown was the holy grail and Ireland had reached the promised land.

Never since that wonderful day has an Ireland side performed the Grand Slam and while many of those who fashioned that great achievement 60 years ago are playing now in the Elysian Fields, we are fortunate that several of those distinguished men are still with us. Let us honour them as they deserve to be honoured.

They gave us one of the great sporting achievements of the era, a collection of heroes who went on to fashion Irish rugby’s ‘Golden Era.’

Scattered throughout the country will be fragments of Daly’s jersey, for in the exultation that followed the victory it was torn to shreds as the spectators sought their souvenirs.