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Three Irish Nominees For IRB Hall Of Fame

Three Irish Nominees For IRB Hall Of Fame

Three former Ireland players – Tommy Crean (1894 to 1896), Tony O’Reilly (1955 to 1970) and Willie John McBride (1962 to 1975) – have been included on the list of nominations for the Class of 2009 induction into the IRB Hall of Fame.

The fourth induction to the IRB Hall of Fame will take place later this year, following the completion of the induction process. The IRB Hall of Fame Induction Panel has compiled a list of candidates for the 2009 induction.

The candidates are divided into three sections: 19th Century, 20th Century and 21st Century.

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The induction process involves several stages including consultation with rugby followers around the world.

Last year, arguably Ireland’s greatest player of all-time, Jack Kyle, became the first Irishman to be inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame.

We are hoping to add a further Irish presence and you can help us do so. Members of the general public have until midday on Friday, May 8 to nominate their heroes from the list of nominees.

Once you have studied the list of candidates, please send your nominations to halloffame@irb.com. Please pick up to two from the 19th century, four from the 20th century and one from the 21st century, listing their name and number.

In addition, public nominations will be considered by the Induction Panel to go forward to the shortlist of candidates for entry into this year’s IRB Hall of Fame.

The inductees will be announced during the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa. 

For further details on the IRB Hall of Fame and the voting procedure, click here.

Class of 2009 –

The three lists of candidates can viewed at the following links: 19th Century, 20th Century and 21st Century.

Irish Candidates for Induction: 

19.3 John ‘Johnny’ Hammond & Dr. Thomas ‘Tommy’ J Crean – Although Johnny Hammond, the dynamic Cambridge University and Blackheath forward and vice-captain of the pioneering 1891 British tour, was the inspiration and the captain of the 1896 tour, it was the blockbusting Irish forward Dr. Tommy Crean who became the tour’s leading personality and de facto captain.

With Ireland – the winners of the Triple Crown two years earlier – still regarded as the best team in these isles, the second British team to tour South Africa was very much an Irish-English combination and dominated by the leading Irish players of the era, of whom Crean was probably the most gifted forward.

At 15 stone he was the fastest man in the team and was described by his team-mate Walter Carey, who became Bishop of Bloemfontein, as ‘the most Irish, the most inconsequent, the most gallant, the most lovable personality one could imagine and he made the centre of the whole tour.’

Crean returned to South Africa during the Boer War as a captain in the Imperial Light Horse regiment and won a VC for gallantry. After the war he settled in South Africa and went on playing for Transvaal.

On the other hand, although Hammond did not play until the 15th match of the tour, possibly due to injury or illness, his considerable influence as tour leader and supporter of British exchanges with South Africa should not be underestimated.

Although they lost the final Test – the first ever win by South Africa – Hammond’s men were the last team from Britain to win a Test series in South Africa until 1974.

Hammond returned eight years later as manager of Mark Morrison’s team and his enthusiastic support for South African rugby convinced the RFU to invite the 1906 Springboks to tour Britain.

20.4 Sir Anthony Joseph Francis ‘Tony’ O’Reilly (Ireland, Lions) – Born in Dublin on May 7, 1936, Tony O’Reilly was only 19 when he embarked on the adventure of his life with the star-studded 1955 Lions team to South Africa.

An Old Belvedere player, O’Reilly made his international debut against France in January 1955 at the age of 18, one of the youngest players to represent his country. His remarkable Five Nations campaign was rewarded with a Lions blazer, which he honoured in style on a tour in which he played 15 matches, scoring 16 tries.

Described by fellow tourist and Lions historian Clem Thomas as an unusually mature 19-year-old, O’Reilly made the right wing berth his own, playing in all four Tests and scoring two tries.

The tall and rangy winger reached playing maturity on the 1959 tour of Australia and New Zealand when he scored 21 tries in as many games, including the six Tests. His total of 37 tries on two tours is still a Lions record.

Away from the Lions scene he played 30 times for the Barbarians, scoring 38 tries, both of which are records for the club with no home ground.

After the 1955 Lions tour, O’Reilly returned to international action for Ireland with devastating efficiency. He made his 29th and final international appearance for Ireland against England in 1970.

20.6 William James ‘Willie John’ McBride (Ireland, Lions) – Born on June 6, 1940 in Toomebridge, County Antrim, Willie John McBride played for Ballymena and Ulster before he was selected by Ireland. Probably one of the finest forwards to have graced a rugby field, he played lock for Ireland 63 times between 1962 and 1975, making his international debut against England at Twickenham.

He matched Johnny Hammond’s record of touring South Africa three times, though unlike the English forward who only played on two tours in 1891 and 1896, managing the third in 1903, McBride played on three tours in 1962, 1968 and 1974, the latter as captain.

He began his impressive playing career for the Lions in 1962 against Namibia – at the time called South West Africa – and finished 12 years and 68 matches later with the final Test against South Africa on the historic 1974 tour, having also been a member of the 1971 all-conquering tour of New Zealand.

The earlier tours helped him understand the mentality of South African rugby and be ready to “do the necessary” to overcome the tactics of the hosts.

He was resilient and hard and made sure that his team would not be subject to the kind of physical intimidation that undermined the best efforts of previous Lions tours to South Africa. He implemented efficiently and thoroughly the plans he had devised together with coach Syd Millar, the architect of the success in 1974.

Overall, he toured with the British and Irish Lions a record six times, once as manager 0 to New Zealand in 1983 – once as captain and four times as a player.