As the New Year is upon us, we pause to remember those connected to rugby across the island who are sadly no longer with us. You are in our thoughts and prayers, as are your loved ones who we wish comfort and peace at this time of reflection.
Some of the Irish rugby figures who died in 2023 are listed below, but we also mourn those within the wider game who passed away, particularly Andrew O’Donnell and Max Wall from St. Michael’s College, ‘Mr Navan RFC’ Brian Coyle, and Tullow RFC’s John Browne and Conor Duffy.
TOM TIERNEY (February):
A welcome presence in any dressing room, Tom had various coaching roles with the IRFU since 2014, including guiding the Ireland Women to the 2015 Six Nations title. He was latterly an IRFU National Talent Coach, working with Munster’s Academy players to prepare them for the rigours of the professional game.
During his playing career, the quick-witted Limerick man represented Richmond, Garryowen, Munster, Leicester Tigers, Galwegians and Connacht with distinction. He played eight times at scrum half for Ireland, including four appearances at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
HERBERT MCCRACKEN (February):
At 95, ‘Herbie’ was one of the oldest living former Ireland internationals at the time of his passing. A solicitor by profession, he learned his rugby at Banbridge Academy, and went on to play for Queen’s University, NIFC, and Ulster.
Made his debut for Ireland at home to Wales during the 1954 Five Nations. Illness had previously prevented him from starting against France in 1951. The possessor of a strong and accurate pass, he stepped in to replace the injured John O’Meara three years later.
BRIAN O’BRIEN (February):
A stalwart of the club, provincial and international game, ‘Briano’ was a key player, selector, coach and manager with every team he was involved with. A Munster Senior Cup winner in 1959, he became Shannon’s first ever international player nine years later.
He served on the IRFU senior selection committee and, in 1983, the British & Irish Lions selection committee. Managed the Ireland Under-21s, Shannon and the Munster and Ireland senior teams. Introduced his ‘Stand Up and Fight’ party piece, with the song becoming a Munster anthem for over 20 years.
CALEB POWELL (March):
Hailing from Templederry, Co. Tipperary, Caleb was IRFU President in 2010/11. He had previously been President of Lansdowne FC and the Leinster Branch. Capped by Munster, he captained Lansdowne to Leinster Senior Cup success in 1965.
Was a teacher by profession, firstly at Limerick’s Villiers School. Returned to The King’s Hospital, his alma mater, in 1961 and taught Geography for 40 years, as well as being their vice principal for a 20-year period. Was a great contributor to schools rugby, coaching both the Leinster and Ireland Schools teams.
NIALL BROPHY (March):
A talented sportsman through and through, Niall used his athletic prowess, which was exhibited on the track and pitch as a youngster, to become one of the greats of Blackrock College, UCD, Leinster and Irish Rugby.
At the age of 21, he won his first Ireland cap on the wing against France in 1957. After an injury-hit 1959 tour, was capped twice by the Lions in South Africa three years later. Served as Leinster Branch President (1981/82), Blackrock’s club President (1985/86), and IRFU President (1997/98).
EDDIE COLEMAN (June):
Like Brophy, Eddie was a schoolboy star in athletics and rugby who went on to be President of his club, province and national Union. Captained Terenure College RFC to their first Leinster Senior Cup title in 1966, he was a powerful, fast winger who reportedly scored over 100 tries for the club over three seasons.
Further honours followed with Leinster and he was deservedly inducted in the Leinster Hall of Fame in 2013. For the 2000/01 season, the Dublin-based bank official became only the second Terenure College clubman to be President of the IRFU. Also served as Chairman of the IRFU senior selection committee.
GREIG OLIVER (July):
The tragic loss of Greig, who was over with his family in Cape Town supporting his son Jack, cast a shadow over Ireland’s World Rugby Under-20 Championship campaign. The U-20 squad showed huge strength of character to finish out the tournament as runners-up.
A former Scotland scrum half and ex-Ireland U-20 assistant coach, he was steeped in Munster Rugby in recent years – a hugely popular character as Elite Performance Officer since 2011 – and also coached with Garryowen and Munster ‘A’. Craig Casey said Greig was ‘one of a kind’ who treated him like ‘a rugby son’.
ROLY MEATES (July):
Long hailed as a ‘scrum guru’, Roly was a prop for Dublin University, Wanderers and Leinster during his playing days. He went on to make his name as a coach perhaps ahead of his time, through an immense 30-year spell at Trinity and two stint in charge of Leinster.
While coaching Ireland in the mid-1970s, some of his training sessions included a famous mile-and-half race over a figure-of-eight course. The Dublin-based dentist was Chairman of Ireland’s senior selection committee, and also the IRFU’s amateur status and medical committees. Was heralded as one of the foremost scrum coaches in world rugby.
GERRY O’DONNELL (July):
An inspirational figure in Connacht Rugby circles, Gerry was the province’s President when they were crowned PRO12 champions in 2015/16. The Ballinrobe man dedicated his life to the development of rugby at all levels ever since he joined Ballina RFC.
A former President of Ballina Rugby Club, he was part of their last Connacht Junior Cup-winning team in 1990/91. Current Connacht Rugby CEO Willie Ruane said: “So much of what I have been fortunate enough to experience in the game of rugby had its origins in Gerry and for that I will be forever grateful.”
PAT CASEY (July):
Pat was capped 12 times for Ireland as a winger or centre, making his debut against France in 1963. Two of his career highlights came the following year when he finished off a breath-taking try against England – one of the best in Irish Rugby history – and bagged another brilliant score for Leinster against New Zealand.
Rising through the ranks at CBC Monkstown and UCD, he became a much-loved member of Lansdowne FC where he is honoured in their Hall of Fame. A chartered accountant, he was known as a great character off the pitch and continued to play for Lansdowne teams for many years.
JIMMY GALLOWAY (August):
Working as a key member of the Lansdowne Road match staff for many years, Munster fan Jimmy was a familiar face to coaches, players and those who worked behind the scenes. Fondly remembered as a much-loved colleague, storyteller and a fount of knowledge in terms of running and stewarding a game.
Left in indelible mark on those he came across, with former Munster, Ireland and Lions out-half Ronan O’Gara saying: “Spent most of my Wednesdays in Ireland camp for 15 years having the craic with Jimmy, Majella (Smyth) and the other groundsmen. An absolute gentleman, we’ve lost a great, sound man.”
DARREN RYAN (November):
Three rugby clubs, Young Munster, Garryowen and Kilfeacle & District, shared in the heartbreaking loss of Darren following a minibus crash. Known as a larger than life character, the former St. Munchin’s College back rower was well known in club rugby circles and was a natural leader on the pitch.
He was an All-Ireland League semi-finalist with Munsters, having won the Munster Junior Cup a year previously in 2016. He went on to win the Munster Senior Cup and All-Ireland Bateman Cup with Garryowen. Hailing from a very talented sporting family, his father, Ray, famously won the AIL title with the Cookies in 1993.
DR RYAN HAMILTON (November):
Ryan left a lasting legacy through his medical work with Ulster Rugby, especially on match nights at Kingspan Stadium, and the IRFU. A GP based in Belfast, he was team doctor for a number of representative teams and was a longstanding member of Cooke Rugby Club.
A thorough professional with a kind heart, he was associate trainer with the Kingsbridge Training Academy for the last seven years. A Cooke RFC statement recalled him captaining their Thirds, ‘a special man who was not only talented on the field but excelled off it too’ and ‘with a laugh that could have been heard from miles away’.
DIARMUID KELLY (November):
Diarmuid made a massive contribution to Munster Rugby, as Honorary Secretary from 1983 to 2005, and as a founding member of Fermoy Rugby Club in the town he was born and grew up in. He revolutionised the administrative structures within the Munster Branch.
A former senior player with Sunday’s Well and Cork Constitution, he introduced Munster’s famous ‘Red Book’, filled with byelaws, fixtures and club contacts, and helped to develop the FAS Rugby Coaching scheme, which was successful in bringing the sport to non-rugby playing schools.
DR SYD MILLAR CBE (December):
Capped 37 times at prop for Ireland and a three-time tourist with the British & Irish Lions, International Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Syd was a stalwart of Ballymena RFC and Ulster Rugby. He went on to coach and manage Ireland, as well as being the mastermind behind the Lions’ undefeated tour to South Africa in 1974.
IRFU Chief Executive Kevin Potts hailed him as ‘a titan of rugby union and a visionary’, following a hugely influential career in rugby administration, which included spells as Ulster Branch President, IRFU President, Lions Chairman, and Chairman of World Rugby (from 2003 to 2007).
May they rest in peace. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha uaisle.