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Here’s to Wally

David Wallace another magical performance copy

Wallace in full flow as Munster beat Leinster in the 2011 Magner League final. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.

David Wallace is the latest Ireland legend to announce his retirement. I thought I’d share one or two memories of his days with Munster and Ireland. Hopefully, you have a few that you can contribute too. If you do, leave a comment at the end of the piece and share the love for Wally!

My first ever Munster match was a Heineken Cup pool game in 2001 against Castres. Munster won 21-11 thanks to a try from Anthony Foley and 11 points from the reliable boot of ROG. But it was David Wallace’s performance that stood out. He was named Man of the Match for what was fast becoming a typically powerful display. I still have the match programme and I wrote in ‘MOTM’ beside his name, along with a little star!

It was immediately clear to my uneducated rugby eye that Wallace was a genuine star. He would be called up to the Lions tour later in the year to replace the injured Lawrence Dallaglio. Of course he scored a try there too. The Limerick man was almost impossible to stop from five metres out. As soon as Munster or Ireland got within sniffing distance of the tryline, there was only one man they looked for.

David Wallace dives for the line copy

A familiar sight for Irish rugby fans. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.

Wallace’s power in contact was second to none. As his career progressed, and his thighs grew ever larger, he became harder and harder to stop. His try-scoring record was prolific for a back-row. He scored 40 tries in his 203 appearances for Munster. For Ireland, he dotted down 12 times in his 72 caps. It may not read as particularly impressive, but to give a quick comparison, centre Gordon D’Arcy has 7 in 68 caps. Wally’s pace and freakish strength made him a serious finisher.

Anyone who ever saw Wallace live, in the flesh, will know just how strong he was. The collisions he was involved in were nearly always accompanied by a sickening thud. His ability to accelerate into contact should not be underestimated. Any rugby player will tell you how hard it is to consciously do. The natural instinct is often to simply accept a tackle. Good coaches constantly remind their players to accelerate into the contact zone and battle to stay on their feet. Wallace didn’t need to be told. He relished the physical battle and always burst into tacklers.

One of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever been at was that famous bonus point win over Sale in Thomond Park in 2006. It was into injury time when Wallace picked from a ruck and strolled over for the try that guaranteed Munster’s progress. Interestingly, there was no one in front of him that time, but if there had been they wouldn’t have stopped him. It was one of the days where I truly understood just how special Munster rugby was and Wallace played the starring role.


Wallace never accepted the tackle, always fighting to stay on his feet. (c) Liam Coughlan.

He wasn’t simply a bosh merchant though. Wally was an intelligent player with a phenomenal work-rate. His support play from 7 was underrated. He scored plenty of tries by simply being in the right place at the right time, the mark of a great player. His fitness was unquestionable, with the big carries and hits coming for the full 80 minutes. On top of that, he always came across as good craic and a nice guy.

Two Heineken Cups, two Magners Leagues, a Celtic Cup, three Triple crowns, a Rugby World Cup, a Grand Slam and two Lions tours. That says it all really. A legend of Irish rugby.



Photos courtesy: Ivan O’Riordan.

Shaggy Bows Out


Horgan during last season's HC quarter-final win over Leicester. (c) Ken Bohane.

The week after Jerry Flannery announced his retirement from the game, fellow Irish international Shane Horgan has decided to call an end to his career too. The 33-year-old has been struggling with a long-term knee injury in recent times and his time as a professional is now over. As with Flannery, we have to celebrate the sheer quality that Horgan contributed to both Leinster and Ireland during his 14-year long career. He was the complete winger at his peak and his long list of honours proves just how good a player he was.

A minor footballer with Meath, Horgan’s parish roots would later help him to dominate aerially on the rugby pitch. His earliest rugby experiences were with home club Boyne RFC and then Lansdowne RFC before Leinster gave him his first professional contract in 1998, at the age of 20. The imposing winger quickly set about making himself a vital part of the set-up and a try-scoring international debut followed in 2000. He went on to win 65 Irish caps, scoring 21 tries, some of which will never be forgotten.

Horgan was central as Leinster grew year by year to the levels they now play at. Whether on the wing or at inside centre, ‘Shaggy’ was reliably hard-working and physical but had genuine intelligence and delicate offloading skills too. His finishing ability was unquestionable. The aforementioned fielding skills also made him a try-scoring threat in any one-on-one aerial contest. Throughout his career, Ireland and Leinster consistently looked for Horgan (6’5″ and about 105kg) to get on the end of cross-field kicks, often to spectacular effect.

BOD finds Shaggy copy

Horgan, 14, takes an offload from Brian O'Driscoll during his last ever Leinster appearance, the 2011 Magners League Final against Munster. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

I was always a particular fan of Horgan’s stint at inside centre. At a time when players like Brian O’Driscoll were the standard shape and size for centres, Horgan was considerably different. His strength and offloading ability in the 12 jersey were something fresh for Ireland. Of Horgan’s three test caps off the bench for the 2005 Lions, two were in the centre, showing just how well the Meath man adapted to the position. Today, we see far more centres and wingers of Horgan’s dimensions. A really complete player, he was good wherever he was chosen.

So, to his long list of honours. Two Celtic/Magners Leagues as well as two Heineken Cups with Leinster were just reward for his service. He made a total of 207 appearances in the blue jersey, scoring a remarkable 71 tries. With Ireland, he played in two World Cups (’03 and ’07) as well as winning three Triple Crowns. A true measure of the man is that this time last season, he was playing superbly for Leinster and, at the age of 32, pushing hard for a spot in the 2011 World Cup squad.

Unfortunately injury has denied him the opportunity to make a farewell appearance this season. He has transitioned smoothly into the world of punditry with RTE, where his sensible and knowledgable contributions are in stark contrast with some of this peers. Shaggy has always come across as an intelligent character and that is backed up by what we’ve seen so far.

Horgan was a brilliant Irish winger who was maybe even a little bit ahead of his time in terms of playing style and build. Imagine the hype that would surround a player of his size and strength if he was emerging from the Leinster Academy now? Horgan says that he feels “fortunate to have played at a time when Leinster and Ireland experienced such great success”. The truth is that he played a major role in that success and in helping both teams to progress to where they are now.


Photos courtesy: Ken Bohane, Ivan O’Riordan.

A Great Retires

A Munster and Ireland great, Jerry Flannery. (c) Linda Molloy.

Disappointing news yesterday as Jerry Flannery announced his inevitable retirement from rugby. The Connacht, Munster, Ireland and almost-Lions hooker was a truly world-class player at his peak. Two Heineken Cups with Munster as well as two Triple Crowns and a Grand Slam with Ireland says it all. Unfortunately, injuries have ended his career prematurely and it’s a crushing shame that we won’t see him in a Munster jersey again.

Limerick through-and-through, the St. Munchin’s man began his professional career with Connacht, intelligently recognising that he would get more exposure to first-team action in the West. After two seasons of building his reputation, Flannery returned to his native Munster at the beginning of the 2003/04 season.  He had to bide his time until ’05/06, when he finally became Munster’s definitive first-choice hooker.

Frankie Sheahan started the opening Heineken Cup game that season but a neck injury during the 27-13 loss to Sale Sharks saw Declan Kidney bring Flannery in at hooker for the next game at home to Castres. He excelled during the remaining victorious 8 games as Munster finally ended their long wait for the Holy Grail, scoring two tries along the way. Again in ’07/08, Flannery started every single game as Munster won another Heineken Cup.

munster v northampton

Flannery carries ball for Munster. (c) Robbie Ambrose.

His breakthrough at provincial level resulted in an international debut the same season. On the 26th of November 2005, Flannery replaced Shane Byrne during Ireland’s 43-12 win over Romania. By the time of the 2006 Six Nations, the Munster man was first-choice, helping Ireland to a Triple Crown, which included a dramatic late win over England. The 2007 World Cup was infamously poor for Ireland, although Flannery showed up well, starting against France and Argentina as well as scoring off the bench against Namibia.

A harsh ban in the build-up to the 2008 campaign meant Flannery missed out but he returned in 2009 to great effect. The powerful hooker won the battle with Rory Best for the number 2 jersey and his displays as Ireland won a Grand Slam were superb. Here, he was at his peak. His lineout throwing was flawless, his ball-carrying dynamic and his defence big-hitting. With a frame like a bodybuilder, Flannery was a vital player for Ireland.

Flannery was a guaranteed Lion in 2009 and sure enough, the call-up came. He would have been one of few definite starters in the Test team, but a cruelly-timed elbow injury ruled him out. Flannery managed to get himself fit for the 2010 Six Nations, reclaiming his place for the first two games against Italy and France. However, a moment of madness in Paris resulted in the ban which ended his tournament.

Jerry Flannery seeks clarification

Flannery in the thick of the action. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

Injuries started to come thick and fast for the Irish No.2 and severely limited the amount of rugby he was available for. In ’09/10 he made 6 appearances for Munster, while in ’10/11 he could only manage 2 off the bench. A true measure of the player is that Declan Kidney still brought him to the 2011 RWC, hoping that Flannery could stay fit. He got through the warm-up games and appeared off the bench against the United States. However, a long-standing calf  injury flared up again and Flannery made an emotional exit.

Returning to Munster, the calf injury eventually healed, but then a back problem surfaced and that has ultimately led to Flannery’s decision. Every Munster and Ireland fan has been willing his full recovery, hoping to see him once again pull on that red jersey that clearly meant so much to him. Alas, it’s not to be.

Instead, let’s celebrate the brilliant career of this Munster and Ireland legend. A superbly talented, hard-working player who took shit from no one. With some of the finest darts around, explosive ball-carrying and memorably big hits, he was the complete hooker and a world-class player. Flannery is well thought of everywhere he has been. He is known as a character and an inspiration. He will carry the best wishes of players and fans alike with whatever he takes on next.

*Feel free to comment below with your favourite memories of Flannery. How much did Ireland and Munster miss out on due to his injury battle? Could he have been a great Irish Lion?


Photos courtesy: Ivan O’Riordan, Robbie Ambrose, Linda Molloy.