When the Lions came to Musgrave Park to play Cork Con

The pictures taken by Sportsfile’s Ray McManus on September 28, 1980 prove such an event could exist back in the amateur days
When the Lions came to Musgrave Park to play Cork Con

WARM WELCOME: Captain Bill Beaumont leads out his Lions XV at Musgrave Park. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

British & Irish Lions tours to South Africa have always been tough. Noel Murphy, the 1980 head coach will attest to that.

Yet the thought of Warren Gatland regathering his tourists for a weekend away in Cork in a couple of months for a few beers and an exhibition match at Musgrave Park is anathema to the professional sport rugby has become.

That, though, is exactly what Murphy did 41 years ago, as tour captain Bill Beaumont brought a star-studded team to play Cork Constitution for the sort of game modern Lions supporters could only dream of on home soil.

Yet the pictures taken by Sportsfile’s Ray McManus on September 28, 1980 offer proof such an event could exist back in the amateur days when players were not beholden to club or union contracts.

There they are, Beaumont and fellow Lions of the day such as Ollie Campbell, Maurice Colclough, Gareth Davies, and Derek Quinnell togged out in red, though, as Murphy pointed out, they were not an official Lions side but an International side with the Cork Con crest on their jerseys.

They seem such simpler times against the current backdrop of Twitter rows between the Springboks and the Lions camps and arguments over the neutrality of Television Match Officials and in many ways they were.

Murphy, now 84, remembers much about the game but is not certain of who came up with the idea during the tour two months earlier in South Africa.

The Bill Beaumont's Lions XV team, back row from left, referee D Healy, Dai Richards, Gareth Davies, Derek Quinnell, Maurice Colclough, Ollie Campbell, Clive Williams, Mike Rafter and Cork Constitution RFC President Michael Keyes, with front, from left, Rodney O'Donnell, Johnny Moloney, Colm Tucker, captain Bill Beaumont, coach Noel Murphy, John Carleton, Phil Blakeway, Allan Phillips and touch judge Fran Cotton and seated Tony Ward, left, and John Robbie. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
The Bill Beaumont's Lions XV team, back row from left, referee D Healy, Dai Richards, Gareth Davies, Derek Quinnell, Maurice Colclough, Ollie Campbell, Clive Williams, Mike Rafter and Cork Constitution RFC President Michael Keyes, with front, from left, Rodney O'Donnell, Johnny Moloney, Colm Tucker, captain Bill Beaumont, coach Noel Murphy, John Carleton, Phil Blakeway, Allan Phillips and touch judge Fran Cotton and seated Tony Ward, left, and John Robbie. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

"It was decided when we were out there as far as I remember, it was 41 years ago,” Murphy told the Irish Examiner, “they were talking amongst themselves but I certainly got behind it in a big way.

"If there was an offer it came through me, whether it was my idea or not I don't remember.

We were talking about playing it in Con at our own ground but we decided we wouldn't be able to fit half of who would be at it so we played it in Musgrave Park.

"We didn't call it the Lions, we called it an International XV but it was made up from the Lions party and everyone at the time said it was the Lions.” 

The biggest stumbling block in getting the team together, as Murphy recalls, was clearance not from club owners but players’ wives.

"The tour had been three months long and that was a long time away so they brought their wives. In those days they were never brought anywhere but it was the only way they'd come after so long away from home.

"There was 24 or 25 who came, some by plane, by boat and car. Some came on Thursday, some came Friday and the last one who arrived, I didn't know whether he'd turn up or not, was a lovely fella called Maurice Colclough.

“He was a smashing guy and he was living in France at the time and came from France to Liverpool, I think it was the only way he could get there and he drove through the night to get to Cork on Saturday morning.

"It was an unbelievable turnout and they all enjoyed it."

So too did the Cork Constitution players, augmented by a couple of guest stars including Ciaran Fitzgerald and Ginger McLoughlin and a young buck from UCC by the name of Donal Lenihan who would become a Lions mainstay himself.

The Cork Constitution Presidents XV team, back row, from left, referee D Healy, Christy Cantillon, Ciaran Fitzgerald, Stan Waldron, Gerry McLoughlin, Brian Clifford, Michael Kiernan, Donal Lenihan, Paul Collins and Anthony O'Leary, with front, from left, Jimmy Bowen, Colm Murphy, Michael O'Sullivan, Cork Constitution RFC President Michael Keyes, Moss Finn, Greg Barrett and Terry Kennedy. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
The Cork Constitution Presidents XV team, back row, from left, referee D Healy, Christy Cantillon, Ciaran Fitzgerald, Stan Waldron, Gerry McLoughlin, Brian Clifford, Michael Kiernan, Donal Lenihan, Paul Collins and Anthony O'Leary, with front, from left, Jimmy Bowen, Colm Murphy, Michael O'Sullivan, Cork Constitution RFC President Michael Keyes, Moss Finn, Greg Barrett and Terry Kennedy. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

“I think the majority of (Lions) fellas that travelled had been on the tour that summer and had played in the Tests against South Africa and Con had to strengthen their side," Donal says. "I wasn’t meant to play, it was meant to be Moss Keane being brought in originally, but when he saw how strong the Lions were it was too early in the season for Moss!

“I was a 20-year-old UCC student and all of a sudden I was in and I was delighted to play and then I remember seeing the team we were playing and it wasn’t a full Test team but the second row was Bill Beaumont and Maurice Colclough who played in all four Tests with Beaumont as the captain. So that was a daunting prospect at the time.

“I remember looking at the Lions team and Beaumont and Colclough were huge figures, Derek Quinnell had been on the 71 Lions tour and I was a bit nervous before the match, but I was told by one or two people, look, 'don’t get too nervous' — Con had brought them out to Kinsale and onto a few boats in the harbour and let’s just say they enjoyed themselves extremely well. 

"I was certainly grateful for that.”  

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