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A sad tale of an overlooked rugby star

Michael Cuddy At his birth in 1930, Tom Cleary's Fairy Godmother decided to lavish him with almost all the gifts needed to ensure that he would live a comfortable, successful and fulfilled life.

Suitcase Number Seven

By Ursula Kane Cafferty

Personal History Publishing, ?15

Michael Cuddy At his birth in 1930, Tom Cleary's Fairy Godmother decided to lavish him with almost all the gifts needed to ensure that he would live a comfortable, successful and fulfilled life.

He was the eldest son, born into a prosperous family of general merchants in the thriving rural town of Carrick-on-Suir. He was a gifted athlete and as a boy he starred at hurling, golf and tennis.

When the time came for him to follow the family tradition and attend St Vincent's College at Castleknock in Dublin he added rugby, basketball and table tennis to the list.

He won a coveted Leinster Schools Senior Rugby Cup medal with the victorious Castleknock side in 1947. He captained the 1948 team beaten in the final the following year but compensated for this disappointment by leading the senior tennis team to victory in the Senior Schools Cup in May of that year. In his final year he was also a Prefect and Captain of the House. In both his final years he had been capped for the Leinster Schools Rugby Interprovincial teams at scrum-half.

He had grown into a tall, blonde, slimly built, handsome man. He was soft spoken, highly intelligent and very popular with both sexes. One could only predict a brilliant future. So how come, by the early 1980s, he was penniless, depending on the charity of his elder sister?

When Tom eventually died in 1997 all he left behind was the eponymous suitcase in which he had stored the letters, invitations, programmes and photographs considered important enough to be retained and cherished. His niece, Ursula Kane Cafferty, obviously had a great love for her Uncle Tom and felt it incumbent that she record the story of his life and death and possibly give reasons for his sad decline over the years.

She has done considerable research and has interviewed many of Tom's former team-mates and pals and has come up with possible explanations for his misfortunes. The Munster, and indeed the Irish, rugby selectors were very slow in rewarding Tom's talents. It wasn't until Tom was in the twilight of his rugby career, in the late fifties and early sixties, that he finally nailed down the scrum-half slot on the Munster side and this, in turn, made the possibility of the Irish cap that he craved, far more likely.

But as John O'Meara had blocked his path to progress in both Munster and Ireland from 1950 until 1958 now the far younger Andy Mulligan was preferred. The one consolation prize for Tom was selection as back-up to Mulligan on the short tour to South Africa in 1962 - but no International cap. (Suitcase Number Seven was the one assigned to Tom for this tour and in which his few worldly possessions were found after his death in 1997.)

The author thinks that the disappointment of ten years of rejection/non-recognition had a profound effect on Tom. Allied to this was his rejection by the one girl he wished to marry and to make matters worse she accepted a proposal from one of his best friends.

These blows were enough for him to give up competing and seek solace in the company of pals that one readily finds in the pubs throughout Ireland. This is a sad book relieved only by the obvious loyalty and love shown to Tom Cleary by his family and most particularly by his sister Helen and his niece Ursula.

Michael Cuddy is a former president of the IRFU