Len Dineen - The voice of experience

Talk to Len Dineen, they said. There’ll be stories, they said. Well, the Limerickman, who recently retired after 40 years as a rugby commentator, settled in ...

Len Dineen - The voice of experience

1989: “The All Blacks were on tour and I was covering the game, so I went down to the old Jury’s in Cork to get an interview with one of them. Buck Shelford was the captain and when I got there he was having his steak in the dining room, but he agreed to an interview after his dinner.

“Now, the 1978 Munster team was having a function in the hotel the same evening, Moss Keane, Tony Ward, all of them together, having a drink, enjoying themselves.

“Shelford came out to the lobby and I said we could record the interview in his room. ‘No,’ he said, ‘we’ll do it here.’ He sat down, did 20 minutes of an interview, and glared across the lobby at the 1978 team the whole time.

“And of course the next day they killed Munster, absolutely killed them.”

1991: “That was the heyday of the All-Ireland League, and the last game was in Dooradoyle, Con and Garryowen. Con Houlihan wrote later that when he arrived the birds were twittering in the trees, but when the game kicked off at half-two, the birds were replaced by human beings.

“That’s no joke. People were hanging out of everywhere trying to watch the game. Fred Cogley and Tony Ward were doing the game for RTÉ Radio, who had a little shed, or hut, on stilts, and I was hanging onto the back of the hut doing updates for Radio Limerick at that stage. Con won that day, and my son Len Jr was playing with Con.”

1992: “Garryowen won the All-Ireland League the following year, and the week after they won they were playing against Young Munster.

“There was no team talk in the Young Munster dressing-room that day. They had a discussion instead. Would they clap Garryowen out onto the field?

“They decided they would, and they did. Begrudgingly. At the time we’d film the games for Chorus, the local TV channel, and when we watched the video back one prominent Young Munster player was looking down at the ground, hands in his pockets when Garryowen came out. There was no way he was clapping them onto the field, anyway.”

1995: “I came back from a holiday in Portugal and Ger Madden in the radio station said I was going to South Africa for the Rugby World Cup. Stephen McDonagh, who played hurling for Limerick, had a brother out there and I was going to stay with him.

“Different times - Terry Kingston was the Ireland captain and his room was the interview centre. I interviewed the Ireland players and sent it all back to about 20 stations back here; Terry would ring up Paul Wallace and Neil Francis and Michael Bradley and tell them to come down to be interviewed. No barriers.

“Incidentally, I can appreciate what going to South Africa did to Munster recently, going there to play. We were up in the high veldt for a game - Ireland v Japan - and when we got back to sea level you felt you could jump over ditches for a couple of days, but after that you felt very flat.”

1995: “We were doing updates for Castres-Munster from France, and the others in the press box were Barry Coughlan, Ned Van Esbeck and Karl Johnson, all of us behind a sheet of perspex.

“Thank God it was there. Every time Munster won a penalty the crowd hammered on the perspex, they were vicious. Van Esbeck eventually started shouting at them, ‘Jesus, we’re only reporting on the game.’

“We stayed in a Crowne Plaza in Toulouse and the mayor invited the team and press to a meal after the match, a huge deal was made of the whole thing.

“There’s huge credit due to Tommy Kiernan and Vernon Pugh for coming up with the idea of a European Cup. Tommy was a brilliant player, brilliant on the field, but off the field he had great vision as well.”

1996: “To give an idea of how far Munster came, I always point to the Toulouse game in 1996. My son Len came on that day. Toulouse won 60-19, and that was the day Mick Galwey asked the players to keep it under 50 points at half-time.”

1999: “Keith Wood came back to Munster for a year from Harlequins. He was the one who said to the other players that they could win the European Cup, and that season was a turning point.

“Munster beat Saracens that season, and that was a star-studded team - Francois Pienaar, Michael Lynagh, all of them. I remember Pienaar looking over at Peter Stringer, who looked like a choirboy - nobody knew who he was at that stage - and there was disdain on Pienaar’s face.

“The first line-out, Pienaar took a tap-ball and came around, straight for Stringer, shoulder down to get him. But if he did, Stringer jumped up like a Jack Russell, grabbed him around the collar and pulled him down. Stringer was very strong, but Pienaar didn’t know it. He knew it after that, though.

“John Langford, who was a great signing for Munster, tapped a late, late line-out to Wood for an injury-time try in the rematch back in Thomond Park, and Ronan O’Gara hit the conversion to win it.

“What a man. The best out-half in the world in his day, in my opinion. Slotted it from the touchline. To me, that day was the start of the Munster phenomenon.”

2002: “Before the final that year we were doing a live broadcast from an Irish pub across the road from the stadium in Cardiff, O’Neill’s.

“The bouncers wouldn’t let us in - myself, Tony McMahon the co-commentator, and John Cronin, who was the Mayor of Limerick at the time. ‘We’ve a broadcast planned,’ we said, but all we got was ‘Sorry mate, you’re not coming in.’

“The technician had gone in already, so we had to improvise. We climbed in through the window of the back kitchen of the pub. The show went on.”

2006: “My co-commentator for the Heineken Cup final was Barry Murphy, now of Heritage Green, but he was a star winger for Munster that season until he injured his ankle. His foot was in a moon boot up in the commentary box with me.

“With five minutes left, and Munster looking good, I was saying ‘Well, Barry, what do you think?’ ‘Come on Munster!’. A minute later, ‘Barry, what do you think?’ More ‘Come on Munster!’, he was totally carried away.

“At the final whistle I was looking for a summary from Barry of this historic, unprecedented moment, and he looked at me and said, ‘I’m getting out of here Len, I’m going down to the lads,’, and he threw his leg over the barrier, moon boot and all.”

2009: “I had a good few co-commentators over the years, quite a few from the Examiner. Charlie Mulqueen helped out, Barry Coughlan as well - he always called me ‘the Pirate’ from my time in pirate radio - and Diarmuid O’Flynn pitched in one time when Munster played Montauban.

“He was there with a few lads from Ballyhea, not working, and when I asked him the lads slagged him until he agreed. He got his own back, though, by calling me Charlie, because he was so used to working with Charlie Mulqueen. I wrote ‘My Name Is Len’ on the machine for him.

“The late Pat Geraghty, the Munster press officer, did co-commentary another time but when an opposing number eight came around and took out Peter Stringer he started shouting ‘You can’t do that!’ on air, so I had to drop him.

“For a while I’d ask Garret Fitzgerald (Munster CEO) for a player to co-commentate, and the likes of Paul Warwick and Kieran Keane weren’t bad. My son Len was my co-commentator for years, but that was after Garret set me up.

“For a game against Wasps he gave me Freddie Pucciarello for co-commentary. A great guy and a fine player, but an Argentinean.

“He did well at the start, but when it got exciting he slipped into Spanish. This got a fair response from listeners, I can tell you.

“Garret came over at half-time and said, ‘How’s Freddie doing?’. I had to concede. ‘Garrett, you set me up.’

“You can quote me on that!”

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