Wednesday 21 November 2018

If Colin had not gotten injured, I might not have played

As we approach the 30th anniversary of Ireland's 1982 rugby triumph, winning the Triple Crown for the first time in 33 years, Drogheda-based Robbie McGrath speaks to Hubert Murphy about a glorious chapter in the Irish game.

IT'S HARD to believe 30 years have passed since the magical days of 1982.

Irish rugby came alive in a few short weeks, when boys became men and supporters sipped from the cup of success that had eluded them for so many years.

Winning the Triple Crown was the jewel in the crown - beat Scotland, England and Wales and you were something special. If you managed to see off the French as well, you could probably run for the Dail!

1949 was the last time the Irish had beaten the other home nations in the same season but 1982 promised something great.

Scrum half Robbie Mcgrath, the Wanderers star, would play a key role in the whole thing.

Sitting in his office at Crilly and Mcgrath Opticians on Laurence's Street, Drogheda, Robbie revealed that a certain amount of luck played its part in his glorious year.

He broke into the Irish side in 1977, his debut coming against Wales in the Arms Park in Cardiff.

' The scrum half on the opposing side was a guy called Gareth Edwards. What a player!,' he recalled.

'He was my hero at the time and to play against him was a wonderful moment in my career.'

He played two more games in that season, but was then out of the picture for four years as Colin Patterson came in.

Colin would suffer an injury during the Lions tour to South Africa and he dropped out of the Irish picture.

John Robbie and Mcgrath were left to battle it out and the 1981 tour to South Africa would again change the picture, Mcgrath breaking his collar bone in the build up, but John Robbie then getting injured and Mcgrath suddenly back in the frame.

Ireland's first game of the 1982 Five Nations resulted in a win over Wales.

They famously beat England at Twickenham - remember when Gerry 'Ginger' Mcloughlin carried the entire English team over the line on his back! - and then Ollie Campbell's boot landed the first three-ina-row since 1949, a 21-12 win over Scotland. France did beat them 22-9 in the last game, but Irish rugby was beating strongly again.

Mcgrath was part of an incredible side that still inspires. Names like Hugo Macneill, Paul Dean, Moss Finn, Gerry Mcloughlin, Phil Orr, Donal Lenihan, Fergus Slattery and Willie Duggan.

' They were great days and occasions,' he admits. 'But I know if Colin Patterson had not gotten injured, I might not have got in because he was a terrific player'.

Even to this day the talk remains, about who was the best, Tony Ward or Ollie Campbell, but Mcgrath feels both possessed wonderful talent.

'It's probably strange to remark, but I never played a full international with Tony. We did line out in a 'B' match but I played most of my games with Ollie at out half. Of course back in 1977 I started with the great Mike Gibson outside me.'

Mcgrath went on to feature in 1983 and 1984, when he won the last of his 16 caps against Wales.

Michael Bradley came in then and in 1985 Ireland secured the Triple Crown again.

'I remember the day we won the title,' he stated. 'I was playing in the Hong Kong Sevens at the time.'

While the Irish scene would end, his club career at Wanderers continued to flourish.

He ended his playing days in the late 80s, having collected four cups and four leagues and a lifetime of memories.

'When you look at the players of today and how the game has changed, it's remarkable really. I don't think I could have played professionally though. The amateur status was great fun and I'd say a lot of the pros of today wouldn't have got away with the regime we had.

' The players are huge today, it shows what the full-time training can do. Even the modern day scrum half is big. It would be hard to take a big hit from some of them.'

Now living in Tenure with his wife-Maura, he has been based in his premises in Drogheda since 1976, having also operated in North County Dublin.

The odd memory of those great days are dotted around the walls, some glorious paintings and photographs, one of Moss Keane about to hug him a treasured one.

' The staff are wonderful here and we work hard. People still come in and talk about the rugby, we have some very loyal customers.'

He admits he's not a great spectator of rugby these days, the passion to compete never diminishing.

'I'd rather get up on the bike and test myself than sit and watch a game,' he admits.

If anything has caught his imagination it's been the success of Drogheda club, Boyne RFC.

An amalgamation of the former local Drogheda and Delvin clubs, Boyne are now plying their trade in the All-ireland League and holding their own in their first season.

'It's great to see the standard of rugby in the north east. Boyne have been a real success story and they are a great club. Craig Mcgrath has been a great driving force and I think the club can go on from here.'

With the start of the Six Nations on February 5 at home to Wales, Mcgrath will recall the great days, hopefully in the company of old rugby pals, and once again walk tall with the legends of an era that is so fondly remembered to this day.