Rugby stars in cycling tribute to late coach

SOME of Ireland’s top rugby stars wore black arm bands yesterday as they completed the Irish stage of the cross-channel fundraising cycle for Munster’s former fitness coach Paul Darbyshire, who died on Monday after a long battle with motor neurone disease.

The cyclists, including Munster legend Mick Galwey, Munster manager Shaun Payne, Sale prop Tony Buckley and former Munster winger Ian O’Dowling, were joined on the final stage by Munster flanker Denis Leamy and Leinster scrum-half Eoin Reddan, as they rolled into Trinity College in Dublin and remained on course to raise over €100,000.

They observed a minute’s silence in Paul’s memory but have vowed to continue raising money for his family, and for research into motor neuron disease, which is being conducted at Trinity by Professor of Neurology Orla Hardiman.

Munster second-row Donncha O’Callaghan, who cycled from Thomond Park to Roscrea, paid tribute to the 41-year-old father of four.

“When it comes to sport some things are put into perspective and the whole sporting community comes together, which is only right,” O’Callaghan said.

“It’s incredibly sad, especially for such a great fella, a great friend who was great at his job.

“All our thoughts were for Darbs [Darbyshire] and his beautiful family, his four kids and his lovely wife, Lyndsay.

“It’s going to be a massive loss for us in terms of our coach, but the hole that’s going to be left by his friendship is the thing that you’ll never be able to put into words.”

O’Callaghan had particular praise Darbyshire for his motivational skills and for promoting “the mindset that your body could do anything and would never fail”.

A native of Wigan, north England, Paul played almost all his professional rugby league career with Warrington Wolves.

He joined Munster in 2007 and became their strength and conditioning coach.

Despite his diagnosis, he continued to involve himself in the Munster team’s affairs, attending all their home games this season.

Munster spokesman Pat Geraghty said: “Paul continued to carry out his duties with the squad with a characteristic courage and humour that has been an inspiration to all.”

He said those involved in the cycle had hoped Paul would have been well enough to attend the gala celebration dinner in Warrington on Friday to mark the end of the cycle.

The fundraising cycle, which set off from Musgrave Park in Cork on Sunday, moves to Britain today and is due to finish in Warrington tomorrow.

The Irish stages were undertaken by the full Munster academy, as well as 22 senior players.

Warrington Wolves players will take on the British legs this afternoon with a 47-mile leg from Holyhead to Colwyn Bay and a 58-mile leg from Colwyn Bay to Warrington tomorrow.

Paul is survived by his wife Lyndsay and their four children, Ella, 13, Georgia, 11, Jack, seven, and Harry, born just last October.

Funeral arrangements have yet to be made.

Donations can still be made on the website, and cheques can be sent to: Munster Rugby Cycle Ride for Motor Neurone Research c/o Munster Rugby, Unit 1, Tramore Commercial Park, Tramore Road, Cork.

Picture: Munster rugby players — among those cycling for Paul Darbyshire, who died this week after battling motor neuron disease — arrive at Trinity College, Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron/Collins

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