Gentle County Limerick rugby giant laid to rest amid tributes

Donal O’Regan

Reporter:

Donal O’Regan

A photograph that many Bruff supporters will identify with - the late Alfie Laffan (in the scrum cap) tackling Michael Rainey, Dungannon in the Bateman Cup in April 2011. Picture: Ray Lohan / SPORTSFILE
THE LATE Alfie Laffan’s fellow Bruff RFC players emotionally clapped him off the eternal field of play in Inch St Laurence Cemetery on Sunday.

THE LATE Alfie Laffan’s fellow Bruff RFC players emotionally clapped him off the eternal field of play in Inch St Laurence Cemetery on Sunday.

The “gentle giant” from Baskethill, Pallasgreen, in the parish of Caherconlish/Caherline, died from cancer at just 33 years of age last Wednesday. For over five hours on Saturday evening mourners gathered at Cross’ Funeral Home in Ballyneety to pay their respects. On Sunday, Caherline Church couldn’t hold the mourners.

Alfie won U16, U18, U20, senior All-Irelands and a Munster Senior Cup with Bruff, as well as being on the team that brought them into the First Division. Cancer curtailed his playing days but Alfie’s bravery and commitment was shown by him taking on the role of senior team manager last year. Fr Pat Currivan said Alfie showed immense courage as he battled cancer for the last three and a half years, facing numerous operations.

“He was a great example to everybody in his life and in the manner of his death due to the way he was able to accept it. He was universally liked and had loads of friends.

“He made friends very easy. Anybody he was ever in contact with seemed to become his friend forever. He worked with Ulster Bank in Cork and played rugby with UCC, Shannon and Bruff. He played football with Caherconlish. Alfie’s other great love was farming,” said Fr Currivan.

Pat Dunne, president of Bruff, described Alfie as a “gentle giant with a constant smile on his face”.

“People he only met once or twice, he made a lasting impression on them. The thoughts of everybody associated with the club are with his mother and father, Mary and Patrick, brothers and sisters and extended family.

“We gave him a guard of honour into the graveyard, which was very moving and touching but also very appropriate,” said Pat.

John Hogan, who would have packed down many a time with Alfie behind him, said they were honoured to give their friend the moving tribute.

“Although it’s normally the opposition that rugby teams clap off the field at the end of games, we broke with tradition and gave one last round of applause to our giant second row as he was brought to his final resting place,” said John, who described Alfie as a “walking contradiction.

“He was a fierce competitor when playing, but as warm and kind an individual as you could possibly meet off the field. He was a giant of a man and played a huge role in Bruff’s successes over the years, particularly in winning the Munster Senior Cup and Bateman Cup in 2011.

“Alfie greeted everyone with a smile and a kind word, whether you were a founder member of the club or it was your first time stepping inside the gates of Kilballyowen. He was a friend to anyone and an example to all.

“His absence will be felt on the field, in the dressing room, in the club house and on bus journeys with the team all around the island of Ireland,” said John.

At the end of the Requiem Mass, Alfie’s best friend Pauraic Keogh paid a moving tribute. He said that on Facebook you will see people with 400 and 500 friends but we all know that in life we only have a few true friends, “Alfie was my true friend. My best friend. But Alfie had many friends, many more than the normal guy. That was because Alfie was so straightforward. What you saw was what you got.

“He was big, strong, happy, smiley, honest and genuine. A gentleman. And it was these traits that brought all of us here today and what made so many people contact him over the last few months.

“Indeed, his father Pat said to me on Wednesday night after Alfie had died that he could not get over how many people had contacted him over the last few months. I said to him, ‘Do not be surprised, this is Alfie we are talking about’,” said Pauraic.

The two grew up only a mile apart in East Limerick but only met for the first time in St Munchin’s.

“Alfie came from the countryside into a city school but was one of the most popular guys in his year straight away.

“He played Gaelic football in first year and second year and only really took up the oval ball in third year. He was pretty raw at the beginning. He spent more time offside than onside!

“But he soon learnt and he became a brilliant rugby player. His traits on the field were the same as those off it. Strong, honest, hard working, never gave up and always by your side if you got in trouble.

“He was very proud of his sporting achievements. He won many accolades including an u20 All Ireland with Bruff in 2001. I was on the opposing team that day. The better team lost! His proudest moment was being on the first Bruff team to win the Munster Senior Cup,” said Paudie.

Alfie’s love of farming was mentioned by Fr Currivan and Pauraic recalled one day in Dublin when they were playing with St Munchin’s.

“Alfie’s legs gave up on him with 10 minutes left and had to come off. As he went to the sideline the coach said to him, ‘Alfie what’s wrong with you?’ Alfie replied, ‘Mick, it’s me calves’. Mick replied as quick as a flash, ‘I thought I told you leave them at home’,” said Pauraic, to smiles from the congregation.

A second story he told was when Alfie was playing for UCC in Dublin.

“A big South African second-row grabbed Alfie by the head and said in a thick South African accent, ‘You are in for a long day here boy’. Alfie flattened him. The lads asked him after the match, ‘God Alfie what did he say to you?’

“Alfie said, ‘I don’t know. I couldn’t understand a thing he was saying’.”

Alfie didn’t back down from the huge South African, and neither did he back down from cancer.

“He fought his illness like no one I have ever known. He knew over a year ago that the news was not good and yet up to three weeks ago you would not have known that he was sick.

“He fought his illness with a smile on his face and his head held high. I believe that he did this because of his great faith. He never missed Mass and always knew he was going to a better and higher place,” said Pauraic.

One of 10 boys and girls, Alfie’s priority was always his family.

“He was very proud of all his siblings’ achievements. He was very proud of the home farm and all the work his father Pat and his brother Keith had being putting into it.

“I don’t know if he was mammy’s pet but I do know that his mammy was his number one. I often asked him if he was ever going to leave home and get his own place. His answer was usually, ‘Where else would I get the five star treatment I get at home?’,” recalled Pauraic.

He closed with, “If we can learn anything from Alfie it is this. Never give up and keep smiling”.

Sympathy is expressed to his loving father Patrick, mother Mary, brothers Cyril, Keith, Cedric and Finbar, sisters Mary, Paula, Michelle, Ashling and Ingrid, extended family and many, many friends.

May he rest in peace.