Munster and Ireland out-half Ronan O’Gara was named the Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year on Monday, receiving his award at function in the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.
It is Ronan O’Gara’s third time to be selected as the Guinness Rugby Writers’ Player of the Year, following on from his wins in 2001 and 2005.
Cork Constitution FC were voted Club of the Year and the Tom Rooney award, for making an exceptional contribution to the game, went to Roly Meates, the former Leinster and Ireland coach.
Current champions of Europe, Munster, picked up the Dave Guiney perpetual award as Team of the Year.
The two new members inducted to the Guinness Hall of Fame were Sean Lynch and Mick English.
Michael Whelan of Guinness and Peter O’Reilly, Chairman of the Rugby Writers of Ireland, jointly presented the awards.
Commenting, Michael Whelan, Head of Sponsorships for Diageo Ireland, said: “The Rugby Writers of Ireland/Guinness Awards affords us the opportunity to honour those who have provided us all with such fantastic entertainment and enduring memories from the game of rugby.
“We congratulate all the winners here tonight and look forward to another great season of international rugby.”
2008 GUINNESS RUGBY WRITERS OF IRELAND AWARD WINNERS:
PLAYER OF THE YEAR – RONAN O’GARA
The superlatives have been heaped on this year’s Rugby Writers/Guinness Player of the year, and we all look forward with pleasure to the contest between him and Dan Carter in just two weeks time at Croke Park.
With two European Cups under his belt, and the possessor of a wealth of statistics that dwarf most other players, this year’s winner could stop playing tomorrow and still leave a legacy to Irish rugby and indeed to Irish sport that will live long in the memory.
O’Gara is on the brink of passing the 1000 points mark in the European Cup – currently he has 979. He is Ireland’s most capped out-half, and he scored the historic first try at Croke Park.
He currently stands at seventh in the list of all-time points scorers in Test rugby.
His contribution to Munster’s second win in Europe was immense, particularly in the pool stages in the games against Wasps and Llanelli.
And this was reflected in the way that Munster captain Paul O’Connell, himself a winner of this award two years ago, invited him to share the cup presentation in Cardiff.
CLUB OF THE YEAR – CORK CONSTITUTION FC
Cork Constitution bridged a nine-year gap by winning last season’s AIB League Division One title, their third crown in the history of the tournament.
The play-off system had not been kind to Con as on five occasions since 2000 they topped the regulation part of the league only for their title hopes to be dashed in play-offs; most notably by Shannon in 2002 and 2004 and Garryowen (2007).
The Cork club were not to be denied when making the final last May on the strength of winning 13 of 15 games in the league proper, including eight in succession.
Once again they were opposed by Garryowen but this time it was Con who prevailed.
They did so with the style and flair as befits a team coached by Brian Walsh, who rather appositely played full-back when Con had last won the title in 1999.
DAVE GUINEY AWARD (TEAM OF THE YEAR) – MUNSTER
It was the final to whet the palate of the pursuits: 2006 Heineken Cup winners Munster versus three-time European kingpins Toulouse.
The Irish province were returning to the scene of their 2006 triumph over Biarritz, the Millennium Stadium, while Guy Noves’ Toulouse craved the opportunity to further enhance their status at Europe’s premier team.
What followed was a nerve-jangling, tension-laden spectacle with Munster grimly eking out a 16-13 triumph in what would be Declan Kidney’s last game before taking up his new appointment as Ireland coach.
It was a poignant occasion with stalwarts like Anthony Foley, John Kelly and Shaun Payne retiring – well from playing at least ’cause you could never call Foley retiring!
The two teams had featured in seven of the past nine finals and were owners of four Heineken Cups between them heading into the game.
The qualities that have penned many a Munster legend were once again in evidence, not least that unswerving obduracy in refusing to buckle. It was Toulouse who blinked first.
Munster’s season was not built around one match but the mantra of one game at a time allowed them to negotiate each hurdle and become worthy champions.
TOM ROONEY AWARD (FOR SERVICES TO RUGBY) – ROLY MEATES
Roly Meates has been part of the Irish rugby scene for a very long time. A former Trinity College and Leinster prop, he succeeded Syd Millar as Irish coach in 1975.
His first Test match was at the newly inaugurated ‘B’ level, and that team beat France 9 -6 in Dublin in a match which saw no fewer than four players sent-off!
His next game was against Australia in January, with a team which featured Senior Schools Cup rivals John Robbie and Ollie Campbell at half-back, but they lost 20-10.
Roly spent two seasons as Irish head coach, and in the summer of 1976 was coach for the tour to New Zealand, where there were some excellent results, but the Test was lost.
Roly, up to today, has been imparting his coaching wisdom to a wide range of teams from the Leinster senior side to schools and club teams.
GUINNESS HALL OF FAME –
16 Ireland caps (1958-63)
The original ‘Mick the Kick’ was a good enough out-half to have been selected for the 1959 Lions to tour Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
He might have challenged for a Test spot had he not been injured early on the tour, though famously he did not allow this to spoil his enjoyment.
Both he and another injured Irishman, Niall Brophy, swapped their flights for boat tickets and took the scenic route home.
He is one of the game’s great characters, the man who, following a try by England’s Phil Horrocks-Taylor, explained: “Horrocks went one way, Taylor the other and I was left holding the bloody hyphen!”
Despite this story, he was one of the first tackling out-halves, which meant he was well-regarded by his forwards.
He was also a prodigious kicker and something of a drop-goal specialist – an important skill in an era when games were often won and lost by the score 3-0.
English also played with distinction for Munster, Bohemians and, when business took him to Dublin, for Lansdowne.
Mick English’s peers generally agree he was unlucky that his career coincided with two of the game’s greatest ever players, Jack Kyle and Mike Gibson.
English replaced Kyle in 1958 and six seasons later was in turn replaced by Gibson. Otherwise, he would surely have won more than his 16 caps.
17 Ireland caps (1971-75)
It is appropriate that Sean Lynch be honoured in a Lions season, for his greatest achievements were on one of the great Lions tours – to New Zealand in 1971.
Selected at the end of his first international season, he was viewed by sections of the British media as a surprise choice but when Sandy Carmichael was battered out of contention in a famously violent game in Canterbury, Lynch made the tighthead position his own for the Test series, which was won 2-1.
While the tour is often remembered for the brilliance of backs like Barry John and JPR Williams, the key to the Lions’ success was the solidity of their tight play at a time when there were an average of 40-50 scrums a game.
Ray McLoughlin, another legendary prop who suffered a serious injury in Canterbury, says Lynch’s stubbornness and unorthodox technique were what made him such a formidable opponent;
“The New Zealanders used to try and intimidate what they saw as the softies from overseas, so the essential thing to do was to respond immediately, show absolutely no fear or respect,” McLoughlin said.
“This wouldn’t bother Sean in the slightest, on or off the field. There isn’t a bad bone in his body but he was a tough customer in his day. The ideal tourist, really. What you saw is what you got.”
Having played for St. Mary’s College and Leinster, Lynch won 17 caps for Ireland, missing just one game in four-and-a-bit seasons.
He was part of the side that drew 10-10 with the All Blacks in 1973 and he also helped Ireland win the Five Nations championship the following season.