Saturday 15 December 2018

Neville Furlong - truly one of Irish rugby's bravest sons

'Neville Furlong, who died yesterday, aged just 49, losing a doughty battle with cancer, could be remembered as one of Ireland’s greatest heroes; he should definitely be recalled as one of its bravest'
'Neville Furlong, who died yesterday, aged just 49, losing a doughty battle with cancer, could be remembered as one of Ireland’s greatest heroes; he should definitely be recalled as one of its bravest'
David Kelly

David Kelly

Before there was ever Soldier Field, there was the Captain's Battlefield.

Before Ireland ever beat the All Blacks in Chicago and even before the time when they should have beaten the All Blacks in Dublin, there was the time they really should have beaten them.

Dunedin, 1992.

Neville Furlong, who died yesterday, aged just 49, losing a doughty battle with cancer, could be remembered as one of Ireland's greatest heroes; he should definitely be recalled as one of its bravest.

That tour to New Zealand saw a depleted Irish outfit travel south to visit the already quasi-professional All Blacks; but they were a fingertip away from what would arguably have been the greatest one-off successes of the modern day amateur era.

Vinnie Cunningham scored two of three Irish tries; Furlong's opposite wing, Ronnie Carey, could have sealed the fantasy with a late intercept. But he dropped the ball.

Furlong was defensively heroic that day; and shipped a serious injury in the process. A week later, Ireland were shellacked in Wellington but the Wexford man was unbowed.

Taunted "Give me the ball," he told his team-mates, "and I'll score." He did, scoring a consolation - Ireland's last ever four-point try - and, after being taunted by John Kirwan for most of the afternoon, delivered the perfect rebuttal: "You're supposed to be the best winger in the world but you couldn't even tackle a cripple."

Furlong attended St Peter's College in Wexford and, as a Shelmaliers club man, played for the county's minor and U-21 footballers in the late 1980s.

He forged his rugby passion at Wexford Wanderers rugby club and started to focus on the sport during his days in UCG, playing with the Irish Students and Universities, Connacht and Ireland 'A'.

Like his rugby captain, Ciarán Fitzgerald, Furlong would become an army captain too, based in Sarsfield Barracks, Limerick.

The ankle damage sustained on that 1992 tour kept him out of the game for 18 months, sadly.

His strength and fitness, allied to his bravery, made him stand out in an era when there were not many of his ilk in green.

He helped Garryowen win the AIL in 1995 and he had also recently helped with their underage set-up. He also had stints as a physical trainer for the Ahane and Kilmurry-Ibrickane footballers, as well as the Patrickswell hurlers.

Deepest sympathies are extended to his wife Trish and sons Ódran and Kyle.

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