MOSS KEANE was the biggest, funniest man I have ever met. He filled whatever room he was in.
I first met him in 1999 when he brought some of his comrades to see Alone It Stands at the Belltable in Limerick. He had been listening to the radio earlier in the week and heard Mike Murphy reviewing the play. Mike informed the nation that Moss was portrayed by Niamh McGrath, all of five foot two, and Moss nearly crashed the car. He arrived with Brendan Foley and Seamus Dennison. And they all stuck around afterwards and mingled with the crowd. He had time for everyone and wore his fame lightly.
Moss was a very intelligent man, he held a masters in dairy science from UCC and attained first class honours all the way through his academic life. He brought this same work ethic and single-mindedness to his sport, it was this mental toughness allied with his spectacular size and high work rate which made him a natural selection for many years on the national and provincial sides on which he played.
Moss won his first cap against France in 1974 and would win 50 more over the next decade, he was a key member of the side that claimed the Triple Crown in 1982. I would love to know the reply Moss made when he heard Ciaran Fitzgerald’s famous question to his team – “Where’s your fucking pride?”.
A Kerryman never has to look far for his pride.
He was also capped for the British and Irish Lions during the doomed tour of New Zealand in 1977. Reflecting on the highlight of that tour, Keane remarked: “Hearing that Kerry had beaten Cork in the Munster final.”
He will always be loved in Munster for the part he played in the victory over the All Blacks in 1978. His recollection of the All Blacks was “they were at least 20% fitter than any other team that you would play against”. But his own record against the All Blacks with Munster was admirable.
“I played them three times for Munster – one win, one draw and one loss, with Munster winning 19-17.”
After the All Blacks had been driven into the wall on their own scrum, Andy Haden lost the rag and squared up to Moss, who smiled and said: “Come on Andy! Ye’ll lose the fight as well.”
The mighty Haden laughed and the tension was dissolved. But Moss hadn’t backed down.
Moss was a shy man and he covered this up with humour. He was a natural raconteur and any nights I spent in his company my face would be sore from laughing the next morning.
One of his favourite (printable) stories concerns going to the butchers for a pig’s head. When asked where the butcher should cut it the young Keane retorted: “As close to the arse as you can.”
I remember a reception in Carrigaline when Stu Wilson had come over from New Zealand and the entire ’78 team had been brought together and the cast of Alone it Stands performed for them.
Moss and his wife Anne regaled the company with stories of their early life together and I remember thinking he was well met in his life partner. Anne never let him away with anything and they had a vitality and joy as a couple that you do not often find in people married so long. Her loss and that of their daughters Sara and Anne Marie at this time must be particularly hard to bear.
Moss represented the soul of Irish rugby in the 1980s. There is a symmetry in his passing on the same day as Trevor Ringland challenges the bigotry of the UUP in boycotting GAA games in the North, as Moss helped evangelise for the rugby in a GAA heartland; for if one such as Moss played rugby, there was surely something noble about it.
In his autobiography he was frank and honest about the toll violence could take on the field and remarkably forthright about the psychological toll a mugging in Dublin inflicted on him. This honesty I am sure will have unburdened many who read his frank account.
Moss’s glorious humanity was there for all to see, in defeat and in victory. He was a professional Kerryman, an Irishman squared. A father, a husband, a scientist, a hero.
Ní feicimid a lethead arís.
John Breen is the author of Alone It Stands.
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