Friday 24 November 2017

Legend maintained his sense of humour to the end

Sean Diffley

Moss Keane's famed sense of humour was there to the end. "You know what," he told all and sundry, "I think that the chemo has improved my golf swing."

It may well have, but when Willie Duggan, John O'Driscoll and Fergus Slattery visited him recently at his home in Portarlington, he was too weak to accompany them to the golf course.

Moss has passed on, a mere 62, just a couple of decades since he played the last of his 51 matches for Ireland. He was an automatic choice in each of those successive internationals.

In 1977, he was in New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions where he played in a Test against the All Blacks.

And, of course, he was a member of that unique Munster team in 1978 that beat New Zealand at Thomond Park.

Moss hailed from Currow, which he described as "just down the road from Castleisland", a remarkable etching in the history of Irish rugby, a small place that has produced not alone Moss, but also Mick Galwey and the Doyle brothers, Mick and Tom -- and Con Houlihan, who admitted he often played for the local club in his bare feet.

After school in St Brendan's, Killarney, Moss got his Masters in Dairy Science at UCC, where he captained the Gaelic football team to a Sigerson Cup.

He had dabbled in some of the college's junior rugby sides, but on Easter Sunday 1971, he played in what he has described as "my first legal rugby game because on that same day the GAA lifted its ban on Gaelic players playing other sports".

Moss has written (with Billy Keane) about his UCC coach, Dr Billy O'Sullivan, who firmly believed that "GAA recruits to rugby are more natural ball handlers. Some so-called rugby experts only kick a ball when they accidentally miss someone's arse".

Moss's riposte to that was: "I could be better in jumping in the line-outs but I have a fear of heights."

So with his Masters degree in his hip pocket and a first appearance for Munster against Ulster -- in direct opposition to Willie John McBride -- and a first job in what he described as the butter department of the Department Of Agriculture, Moss became a resident of Dublin city and a member of Lansdowne football club.

His first cap came in January 1974 against France at the Parc des Princes and just before that auspicious occasion the rugby correspondent of this newspaper -- my good self -- arranged an official interview with the new Irish second-row.

Moss was living in Rathgar, so we met in Murphy's pub and in Moss's words: "The interview lasted a long while and we enjoyed a drink as we spoke. The following morning I was at my desk when the phone rang. It was Sean. He couldn't remember a word I had told him. I strongly suggested that our next meeting be held in a cafe."

Deadlines were a bit more elastic in those days, obviously.

Moss scored just a single try for Ireland, but lock forwards don't tend to make the list of try scorers very often.

That try was against Scotland at Lansdowne Road in 1980, a game Ireland won 22-15.

It was Moss's 26th cap and he describes that memorable moment as "Donal Spring passing me the ball and I trotted for six or seven yards before I crashed through one tackle and flopped down in the corner".

Ireland beat Scotland and Wales that season, but lost to England and France. Moss's second-row partners were Jim Glennon and Brendan Foley.

Moss was a great player, and a perfect sportsman, always disdaining anything unfair, but he is universally respected not just as a legend but as naturally humorous and affectionate, someone who leaves this world a better place and not just in rugby.

He will be sadly missed, not just by Anne and Sarah and Anne-Marie, to whom we send our condolences, but by all of us in Irish sport.

Sean Diffley was the Irish Independent rugby correspondent from 1972 to 1995

Irish Independent

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