Stars line out for Ronan O'Gara's testimonial dinner in Cork
IT WAS a star-studded event but for Ronan O'Gara it was "emotional" to be honoured by his former teammates in his home city.
Munster's most capped player of all time was toasted at a testimonial dinner in Cork's City Hall last night, accompanied by his wife Jessica, and 850 guests that included some of the most recognised faces in Irish sport.
Fellow Corkonian Roy Keane was among the guests who came out to pay tribute to the man heralded as the saviour of Munster Rugby, the club O'Gara revealed he would one day love to coach.
Keane declined to speak to reporters, even to pay tribute to 'Rog'.
Also among the guests were former teammates, Donncha O'Callaghan, Dougie Howlett, John Hayes, current Munster captain Peter O'Mahony and Ireland and Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll who arrived late having been held up by traffic.
Having just flown in from France the previous night, O'Gara said he was taken by surprise by the whole occasion.
"I'm hoping it will be a great evening. I have the best of memories. When I started playing for Munster there were 400 people watching us and now there are 80,000 so it's a great story," he told the Irish Independent.
"I've had every emotion from crushing disappointment to the best of days and great nights after games."
Wife Jessica said she was enjoying living in France since her husband took up a coaching job with Paris club Racing Metro 92.
Former Munster and Ireland player Peter Clohessy said Munster Rugby would not be what it is today were it not for O'Gara, a sentiment echoed by several people at last night's event.
John Hayes described his close friend as one of the greatest players of the game.
"He was determined, driven and never took a backward step.
"But he also had a razor-sharp tongue and you would not want to be on the wrong end of that," he said.
Other guests included former Cork manager Billy Morgan, Munster chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald, rugby pundit George Hook, jockey Ruby Walsh, Today FM's Mario Rosenstock and Ian Dempsey, Finance Minister Michael Noonan, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin, Bishop of Cork and Ross John Buckley and Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork Paul Colton.
Guests who paid €300 each per ticket enjoyed a banquet of smoked salmon with a tian of crab for starters, roast striploin of beef or baked filet of Atlantic hake for mains, followed by a medley of deserts.
Charities that benefitted from last night's black-tie event included Cork University Hospital and Crumlin Medical Research Foundation and a contribution was also made to the Donal Walsh #Livelife Foundation, the charity set up in memory of the teenager whose coffin O'Gara had helped shoulder last May.