Wednesday 23 October 2019

Ollie Campbell is a Legend in Life

One could spend a day in the company of the man. A walking legend with a right boot of silk, Ollie Campbell epitimised everything that was great...

One could spend a day in the company of the man. A walking legend with a right boot of silk, Ollie Campbell epitimised everything that was great about Irish rugby back in the early 80's.

He had panache, drive, could 'tan' a ball many a mile and above all, had an incredible zest for the game.

Sitting at the 'Legends in Life' dinner in the Posthouse, Dublin Airport last week one couldn't but glance an odd look at the man as the video played in the background, depicting legendary moments in mighty games, with Tony Ward biting - unsuccessfully most of the time - at his heels.

His razor sharp breaks through a sea of red, blue, navy and white shirts from Murryfield to the Parc de Princes were a delight to watch, that mop of ginger hair unquestionable belonging to one man...Ginger McLoughlin couldn't move that fast !

Afterwards he stood shoulder to shoulder with Tony Ward on stage, discussing the old days with Michael Lyster from RTE. Both men had reason to be jealous of each other, of past differences perhaps, but as Ward manly admitted ' how could you hate this man ?' as Campbell held out a warm hand of friendship and a sportinghug of the right shoulder.

Campbell is one of the nice guys in sport who made it.

He rose above all the controversy of that famed 1979 Irish tour to Australia toenjoy a spellbinding career in the green jersey.

Remarkably he only played 22 times for his country in eight years but seemed tobe around for much longer than that.

In the company of old schoolpal Vincent Shannon, head of the Swords Chamber of Commerce, Campbell is quick to recall the good times of Irish rugby but one knows he was talking from the heart when he spoke of the present plight of the game.

'I do so feel for the present day players. They have gone through a tough period but it just takes one victory to sometimes turn things around and confidence,or lack of it, is the one big challenge you face in this game.'

Campbell was never a man lacking in confidence stakes from the first moment hisdad called him into the house as a five year old.

'I remember the day in our house which was down near the Grand Hotel in Malahide. My dad had his two hands behind his back and said to me ' catch this son and its yours.'

'With that he produced a size three leather rugby ball and threw it into the air. I caught it and ran and didn't stop.'

Back then rugby was hardly the No.1 sport in Malahide, with the tennis and cricket dominating but Campbell fondly recalls the days by the Estuary.

'Malahide was a wonderful place to grow up, simply wonderful,' he continues.

And while Ollie went off to the Irish picture, his brother Michael went on to captain the Malahide club in one of their most successful years just a few seasons ago.

'Michael could have played for Ireland I feel, he was very talented and even now his knowledge of the game astounds me at times. I was so one dimensional when I was growing up but Michael had a more rounded life. We played on the same team just the once at school.'

Ollie's career blossomed after the 1979 tour but his relationship with Ward wasalways croping up.

'People talk about us in the same breath and that's just a way of life which wehave both come to accept.'

'There was never any ill feeling between us, it was just one of those things that happens in sport.'

In the years following the Triple Crown success of 1982, the players kept in touch, the spirit developed over that season unquenchable with the passing of time.

'In view of the last decade or so and how hard things have become for Irish rugby we begin to appreciate that time much more and meet up quite a few times.'

'People perhaps don't realise that we had been around for quite a while before 1982 and had tasted some hard times too but got through them and feel we were quite lucky in the end to experience what we did.'

In the present era of professional rugby, Campbell feels that success for the senior side is not that far away, if one is to judge by the results of the collges, under 21 and A sides in recent years and the players coming through.

'Its just the finished product that we lack but we can't be too far from it,' he feels.

When all the presentations, interviews and photographs were completed last week, Campbell headed for a waiting helicopter to take him back to a Trade Show inthe Great Southern hotel in Galway but then again wasn't Seamus Oliver Campbellone of the highest flyers the game has ever seen....appropriate perhaps.

Malahide rugby ace with a right boot made of pure silk

Name: Seamus Oliver Campbell.

Born: March 3, 1954.

Place of Birth: Dublin.

Home Town: Malahide.

Present base: Clontarf.

Club: Old Belvedere.

Latest success: Last week, in the company of Tony Ward and John Rutherford (Scotland) was presented with a ‘Legends in Life’ award by Brian Thornton from the Posthouse Hotel, Dublin Airport. His last major award was in 1982, winning a Texaco award.

Claim to Fame: Was once ‘more popular than the Pope’ !

The reason: The 1979 Irish tour to Australia. Tony Ward, his rival for the No.10 jersey with Ireland, had been selected as the European Player of the Year for two years in a row prior to the departure.

In a warm up game v New South Wales, Wardie played a big game and scored 19 points. Nothing strange there.

Ollie Campbell was called in for the midweek game with Queensland and was impeccable as he scored all 18 points in an 18-15 victory.

The management took a gamble, many felt, in selecting Campbell but he won the Test for Ireland and followed up with another big performance in the second, which Ireland won as well.

News of Campbell’s selection over Ward hit the front pages in Ireland, relegating a story on the Pope’s visit to Ireland to the side columns.

His record: Played in 22 matches for Ireland from a period between 1976-84 and scored 217 points. His was Ireland’s leading points scorer until surpassed by Michael Kiernan in 1988.

Went on two tours with the Lions, playing in South Africa in 1980 (where he got injured) and New Zealand three years later. He played in seven matches altoghether.

Debut: That came in 1976 against Australia and Ollie turned in a poor performance, getting dropped for the first and last time in his career. He didn’t feature again until the 1979 tour.

Best moment: The Triple Crown success of 1982. Ireland had not won the series since 1949 and going into the new season hardly had much cause for too much hope, having suffered a whitewash in 1981.

But having overcome England (a first win in seven internationals) and Wales, they met Scotland with victory needed for glory.

Campbell again was elusive, scoring all 21 points in a 21-12 success.

Retirement: That came in 1985 due to hamstring trouble. Up to two years ago he took a keen interest in coaching at Belvedere but business reasons forced him into taking a back seat.

‘But I do hope to return to the club,’ he states. A role with the under 19’s would be his favoured position.