Honest, warm and sincere – and Munster to the core

HE may have played 51 times for Ireland and toured with the Lions but for many rugby followers throughout this island, Moss Keane will be best remembered for his memorable contribution to Munster’s famous victory over the All Blacks on October 31, 1978.

The occasion gave rise to many stories, some of which have since assumed legendary status. The one that gained most attention and which the 12,000 or so present that great day most enjoyed, centred on an incident in front of the stand near the end of the game.

The New Zealanders were 12 points behind and going nowhere. The All Blacks reacted as they tend to do when things are not going their way – they raised their fists as if looking for a fight.

Moss Keane quickly spotted what was happening and advised his famous opposite number Andy Haden that “you’ve lost the match, ye’ll lose the fight as well?” Haden was a big man, a tough man and a great second-row forward but he acknowledged the inherent wisdom of the question and dropped his hands.

True or false? Well, we all want to believe the exchange took place. Trouble is, Moss Keane was an honest man and in his autobiography many years later, was unsure of the facts.

“Maybe I did but it doesn’t sound like me. There was no chatting with the All Blacks. If you wanted to do one of them, you did it at your peril.

“ And they were very sporting on the day. In fact, I thought we were lucky more penalties weren’t given against us.”

That’s a side of the man people might not have easily recognised. He played hard on and off the rugby pitch but if he ever threw a dirty dig, I never heard of it.

As for a swelled head or anything of that nature, forget it. He would give his all for Ireland on a Saturday and happily turn out in a friendly club game 24 hours later.

He loved a jar and a chat and was the most humorous and convivial of companions.

I’d be surprised if Moss Keane could have adjusted to life as a full-time professional but again, that might be to underestimate a man of considerable intellect and practicality. He always said that Munster was the team closest to his heart and few enjoyed the team’s Heineken Cup victories in 2006 and 2008 more.

“There will always be a Munster,” he once said. “I love the fans and the camaraderie, especially when we play in France with the odds stacked against us and referees missing blatant opposition fouls.”

When news of his illness first became public knowledge, there was a sense of total disbelief. Surely, even this deadliest of diseases could not claim the life of this massive hunk of a man whose zest and joie de vivre put him at the heart of any gathering where people gathered for lively conversation?

I last met him when the heroes of 1978 assembled for the Munster-All Blacks match that officially opened the new Thomond Park stadium in November, 2008. To me, he was the same. The familiar smile and the bone-crunching handshake were as warm and sincere as ever. He didn’t pretend that he was beating the cancer but he revelled in meeting up once again with his old comrades and was extremely positive about the future.

Yesterday, fellow Currow man, Mick Galwey described him as a colossus. They all appreciated something special in a special man.


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