, ,

The other night, I was honoured to be asked to speak at the Bective Rangers President’s dinner. My memory of the evening is a little hazy, but several old friends mentioned a column I had written about playing against the great Irish (and Bective) prop forward and rugby coach Al Moroney. I promised to post it to my blog…

ruggerWhen the Irish rugby team runs out on to the pitch this afternoon to face the New Zealand All-Blacks, the first thing each of the players will do is to search out his opposite number.

The wingers will look for the other wingers and props will seek out props (they’ll be the door-shaped ones).

An unconscious checking out process will go on, not unlike what transpires at a singles night in Copper-Face Jacks.

There is a measuring-up, an assessment of relative merits, almost a comparison of inner thigh measurements before the Irish player, looking for a last time at his opponent, says to himself: “Yeah, I can take him.”

When I was playing for Bective Rangers RFC, this process of opposition measurement invariably led to the conclusion: “Jaysus, they’re big!”

Once, due to circumstances too complicated to go into here but involving a girl and Trinity Ball tickets, I somehow managed to play for UCD against Bective in a cup match.

As we ran onto the pitch at Belfield, I scanned the opposition for door-shaped people.

I was playing at prop – although I was built more like a small architrave myself – and I wanted to see who I was up against.

I wanted to look him in the eye, measure myself against him, and say: “Yeah, I can take him”.

There, biting lumps out of the posts, was their Number 3. And, Jaysus, he was big. More like a columned portico than a door.

He turned towards me. “I know that face,” I thought. “It’s…no, wait… it’s Al Moroney! Hey Butch, is that Al Moroney over there?”

Butch confirmed that indeed it was Al Moroney over there. Al Moroney. Ireland international. Leinster veteran. Bective legend. Scrum expert and all-round super-prop.

Now I know, I thought, what Seamus Denison thought when he caught sight of Stu Wilson that day in Thomond Park in October 1978 when Munster ran out against the All Blacks.

Denison was considered a risky selection by coach Tom Kiernan. He was a slip of a lad compared to the All Blacks. Fast and brave, but what was that against the men mountains from the land of the long white cloud?

He was also slightly balding and wore a beard. In the scant footage that survives of the match, he looks like a Technical School teacher who has wandered into Thomond Park by mistake.

But selected he was. He eyed up the opposition, including the famous Wilson, the best broken-field runner of his generation, fast and elusive as quicksilver.

Wilson got an early pass and was just beginning one of his mazy runs when Denison absolutely flattened him. (Denison nearly broke his shoulder, but the tone had been set.)

However, back to my match against Big Al. Inspired by Denison’s heroism, I hit that first scrum as hard as I could.

A sound emanated from Moroney. It might have been a snort, or a laugh. It was caused, I was fairly sure, by amusement rather than pain.

The job of a loose-head prop such as myself is to get one’s head under the breastbone of the opposing tight-head.

Then, when the push comes through from the second rows behind me, and the second rows behind him, he must buckle and pop out of the scrum. It’s all just a matter of physics (or is it hydraulics?).

I winkled my way in, getting legs, spine and head aligned just so. The scrum-half fed the ball in. The push came on. I strained further, pushing up and in.

The laws of physics were suspended for that scrum, and for the rest of the afternoon. Moroney was immovable.

He could, given his size and expertise, have rearranged my spine in any shape he chose. But he went easy, content to absorb whatever I could throw at him.

As we shook hands at the end of the game (well, my hand got lost somewhere in his maw), he offered some advice: “Did you ever think of playing soccer?”

Today, as Ireland test themselves against the All-Blacks, I look forward to the many individual battles – winger against winger, door against door – that will take place across the pitch.

I just hope they’re a little more even than mine that day against Big Al.