Stephen Moore was 19 or 20 when the IRFU came knocking on his door.
Born in Saudi Arabia to Irish parents, and brought up in Salthill until the age of five, the now 30-year-old has gone on to wear the famous gold jumper more times than any other hooker in Australian history, but the old country is never far away.
His folks, Tom and Maureen, settled well in Queensland, but found the pull of home strong enough to make the monstrous journey northwards with their four kids every two years — and among the cousins here was one Paddy O’Rourke.
That is the same Paddy O’Rourke who played in goal for the Irish International Rules team that beat the Australian indigenous side last month and who took Moore on a tour of the Croke Park museum prior to Australia’s game there in 2006.
The blood lines clearly run deep then, but there was no hesitation or empty platitudes proffered to willing Irish ears when he was asked yesterday if he gave the IRFU’s approach much thought back in the day.
“That was a long time ago, very early on in my career when I was 19 or 20, and I wasn’t really thinking about playing internationally,” he explained. “I was only playing U19 rugby in Brisbane so there was a bit of interest there with my background but at the time my head was spinning a little bit about everything.
“But I’d been in Australia since I was five years old and I consider myself a proud Australian. I’m very glad I’ve had the opportunity to play for Australia so many times and it’s very special to me. But, in saying that, I’m still very proud of my heritage over here as well. We’ve got plenty of guys in the team like that. There’s plenty of guys with background in other countries around the world.”
Maybe so, but few of them can have ever had the type of opportunity which Moore will avail of at some point today when he heads along to a Navan nursing home to see his grandmother Bridget. There with him will be his mum, his wife and his young son — four generations of the one family.
His immersion in all things Irish is apparent time and again as he speaks. Unlike most southern hemisphere players, for example, his reply to a question about this week’s opponents stretches much further than the obligatory nod in the direction of Brian O’Driscoll.
He speaks almost reverentially about Paul O’Connell, chuckles as he brings up the so-called curse that hovers over the Mayo football team and their spurned All-Ireland ambitions and holds court on the special place Croke Park has in Irish hearts.
Which isn’t to say that his trips here have been all gravy.
This is his third time prepping for a game in Dublin and he has yet to win. That game at the GAA’s HQ ended 20-apiece thanks to a late O’Driscoll try and his first taster, at Lansdowne in 2006, ended in a 15-point defeat. “The weather was shocking but they played a really good game,” he said of the latter occasion. “So, that had its own history as well. I don’t know if they played a lot of games after that before it was knocked down so they are good memories, although we didn’t win either game. Games between Ireland and Australia have traditionally been very close.”
His abiding memory of that Lansdowne game was of Ronan O’Gara pinging balls into corners like it was tied to a piece of string, but it was a defeat that lent credence to the perception that the Aussies can’t get the job done in the wet.
They have struggled to change that but perception can stick as hard and as fast as glue and it is another, that they can’t scrum, that has been even harder to shift and they seemed to pay for it when they were pinged time and again against England last Saturday.
“That’s something we always seem to be talking about up here.”
Not today, though.
Today, he gets to talk about things even closer to his heart.
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