Tuesday 24 September 2019

John Daly: 'All Blacks' will to win is rooted in a Donegal man's Boer War'

'Admired even by sworn enemies, there is no one who can deny the ruthless efficiency of the All Blacks'
'Admired even by sworn enemies, there is no one who can deny the ruthless efficiency of the All Blacks'

John Daly

Later this week, I'll be taking lessons in leadership from an organisation with the highest success rate in the world. Admired even by sworn enemies, there is no one who can deny the ruthless efficiency of the All Blacks. New Zealand's win rate over the last 100 years is over 75pc - a record matched by no other team in any code.

But it goes deeper than just figures. As they line out at Lansdowne Road on Saturday, they will come - as always - with a ferocious resolve to deliver another chapter in leadership and unity, which are ingrained in the psyche of every player who wears the jersey with the fabled fern. It is a sporting legacy made all the more remarkable for having been originally constructed upon the teachings of a man from Donegal.

Outside Eden Park stadium in Auckland, the home of Kiwi rugby, stands an imposing 9ft statue of David Gallaher.

The child of emigrant parents from Ramelton, he is credited by many as being 'the man who taught New Zealand how to win'.

Ironically, his legacy of domination against his native Irish soil lasted over a century until that fateful November day in 2016, at Chicago's Soldier Field, when Ireland finally turned the tide.

As captain of 'The Originals', the first New Zealand touring team of 1905, Gallaher etched his name amongst the greats. In a tour that gave rise to the 'All Blacks' moniker, his leadership style overturned accepted norms of rugby with a ruthless will to win borne out of the guerrilla warfare at which he had excelled in the Boer War.

He insisted that all egos, bickering and petty rivalry be left on the quayside. This was sporting conflict they were entering and the dark arts of command that he had learned on South Africa's High Veldt became the team's unified karma.

Enforcing a climate of 'train hard, play easy', Gallagher introduced innovations such as dummy passes, line-out throws by the hooker and his speciality, the back row break from the scrum. That the home nation who had given the world rugby should be humbled by a minor colony was one thing; that they were led by an Irishman made the bitter pill even harder to swallow.

But Gallaher's greatest legacy came years later, with the publication of 'The Complete Rugby Footballer'. Still one of the game's most influential texts, it played a pivotal part in Graham Henry's victorious tactics at the 2011 World Cup.

Killed at Passchendaele on October 3, 1917 - an enlistment on which he insisted, even at the age of 41 - Dave Gallaher died as he lived, leading men into battle for the ultimate victory.

His team-mate from the 1905 tour, Ernest Booth, wrote: "He was a man of sterling worth, slow to promise but always sure to fulfil. A valuable friend and a remorseless foe, he played right up to the whistle and stopped for nothing, big or small. He never took a backward step."

Next Saturday, I'll roar my lungs out for Ireland, while observing the legacy of leadership by the man who changed the game forever.

Irish Independent

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