Friday 19 January 2018

Irish ties still bind for Moore

Hooker proud of Galway roots but has no regrets over opting for Aussies

Stephen Moore at training yesterday
Stephen Moore at training yesterday
Stephen Moore in action against Ireland at Croke Park in 2009
His Meath cousin Paddy O’Rourke gave him a tour of the home of the GAA before the game

David kelly

Stephen Moore may have travelled 10,000 miles to get to Ireland on an Australian passport, but today will represent a sort of homecoming.

Four generations of the Moore family will congregate in a Meath nursing home to take a snapshot of a deeply personal memento, a vivid illustration of just one of thousands of Irish emigration stories.

Gathered together will be the newest arrival, Theodore, Moore's 10-month-old son. Alongside, Stephen and wife Courtney.

Flanking them, his mother Maureen, from Swinford in Co Mayo and his dad Tom, who hails from Tuam. Pride of place will go to the matriarch of the family, Meath woman Bridget.

"It's going to be a nice day," beams the 30-year-old hooker as Theodore plays outside in the gleaming winter sunshine. "It's a really special week for me."

Rugby purists are intimately acquainted with Moore's back-story but it still holds a deeply personal recognition for the wider Irish sporting public. How a son of Salthill could so easily have made it in green, not green and gold, were it not for this country's ever existent emigration tap.

VAGUE

"I'd only have vague memories of living in Salthill. I've been back to see it, we'd come over every few years or so, as it was a big move for the folks to up and go with four young kids," he says.

"So we saw a lot of the extended family early on and we've stayed close. Galway has changed a lot since we left, though."

Although he was lost to this country at an early age, the country was never lost to him. He played Gaelic football as a kid when he enrolled at Brisbane Grammar School.

"It was part of our physical education programme so it was interesting," he recalls. "My body type wasn't exactly suited to it. I was just up the back punching the ball. I didn't really run too much."

Ireland didn't forget him, either. The IRFU were more than keen to assign their interests with his Irish identity.

"That was a long time ago, very early on in my career when I was 19 or 20 and I wasn't really thinking about playing internationally," he says.

"I was only playing U-19 rugby in Brisbane so there was a bit of interest there with my background but I think at the time my head was spinning a little bit about everything. However, I'd been in Australia since I was five years old and I consider myself a proud Australian.

"But in saying that, I'm still very proud of my heritage over here. We've got plenty of guys in the team like that. There's plenty of guys with backgrounds in other countries around the world.

"When it came down to it, it wasn't really a difficult decision. I'd always grown up thinking about Australia and wanting to play for the Wallabies. I'm really thrilled and honoured that I've got so many opportunities to play for Australia."

The Irish ties still bind tightly. When his side drew in Croke Park in 2009, Moore preceded that game with a tour of the museum and he had a suitable guide – his cousin is Meath and Ireland goalkeeper Paddy O'Rourke.

"I follow him pretty closely and keep an eye on those guys," he says. "And with mum being from Mayo, they were in the football final this year. They're talking about some curse that was put on them 50 years ago. Hopefully that will be lifted soon.

"But I'd never been in Croke Park before and it was pretty cool with all the history there, it was great to play on that ground.

"Listen, if Paddy gets the call-up next year with the Irish team, I'll definitely try to catch them out our end."

With the genius Israel Folau in the same room, it would be easy to neglect the potential for any 'green' influence in his astonishing career, one that has already embraced three different codes: rugby league, Aussie Rules and now rugby union.

"He says he wants to play hurling next," jokes Moore. "We asked the liaison officer to bring a couple of sliotars to training so we might whack it around."

How would he fare?

"I guess he'd do pretty good if his last couple of sports are any guide!"

Folau spent a brief sojourn at the Greater Western Sydney Giants, where former Cork hurler Setanta O hAilpin took the prodigy under his wing. Both were underwhelming at the new franchise but the friendship endured.

"I haven't seen him recently," says Folau who, when he is not terrorising defences, seems to be permanently smiling. "He even smiles when he plays," notes his Waratahs coach, ex-Leinster chief Michael Cheika.

"The last time I saw him (Setanta) was at the Giants," continues Folau. "He only got married a few weeks back, so he's a busy man. He was a mentor to me – he was a great help to me when I arrived at the club.

"Before that he was at Carlton for a long time. So with his experience, he was pretty decent to me. I'm sure the club will miss him (O hAilpin was delisted at the end of the season)."

Folau has Tongan descent and celebrates his heritage in a series of tattoos. Unlike Moore, he was born in Australia, one of six kids in a tough Western Sydney neighbourhood. For him, representing Australia was a no-brainer.

"It wasn't hard for me to make the decision," Folau says. "Playing rugby league first, I always wanted to represent Australia (he would do so in a World Cup final).

"I'm very grounded in being involved with my culture. My family pushed me to Australia. But we watched Tonga when they were on, in rugby or league. They're proud I'm wearing gold now."

Moore knows the feeling, even if his extended family will cheer for Ireland on Saturday. "At this stage, the family have jumped the fence. My cousins support Ireland and I understand that. Tickets are red hot!" he says.

"It is such a great occasion to have them all at the game."

It may not be the last time he's back. His Brumbies coach Laurie Fisher, once of Munster, has been gently ushering Moore to pitch up at the province after the next World Cup.

That would complete the circle quite nicely.

Irish Independent

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