In this week’s column, Aidan Corr looks at the history of high-profile rugby players playing soccer in Limerick.
THROUGHOUT the decades it was not unusual for prominent local rugby players to take on voluntary dual status and turn out with Limerick’s senior soccer side on a Sunday.
Such was the case in February of 1956 when, just seven years after helping the national team to their rugby Grand Slam of 1949, Garryowen and Ireland centre Paddy Reid pulled on the number nine blue jersey in the frugal surroundings of a Markets Field timber dressing room.
The first round meeting of Limerick AFC and Cork side Evergreen United had received massive pre-match publicity, based on the appearance of Reid and the three cross-Channel signings, Docherty, Leckie and Harold Mather, the latter having won an FA Cup medal with Burnley in 1947.
Those who arrived late would have been justified in asking for their admittance fee back for within six minutes of the kick-off, Evergreen centre forward Eddie Doran had helped himself to one of the fastest hat-tricks in Irish soccer history. It wasn’t that Doran was gifted with silken footballing skills but in those days, when you could charge the goalkeeper, there were few to hold a candle to the Corkman. For me his first goal still stands out: Limerick goalkeeper Paddy ‘Geezer’ O’Dwyer had risen high to claim the ball from a corner and while in mid-air Doran, charging like a rhinoceros, drove ‘Geezer’ and the ball into the back of the net. It took almost two decades for FIFA, soccer’s governing body, to at last grant protection to soccer goalies.
Isn’t it now time that the world’s top rugby body, the International Rugby Board, stepped in and had a closer look at what is actually happening in rugby at the moment, particularly the fielding of high kicks by last-line defenders?
In conversation with Frank Prendergast, probably this city’s most noted of rugby raconteurs, I learned the history of the famous ‘garryowen.’ Frank played with the light blues in their then home venue, the Markets Field and one of their ploys, if they were holding onto a narrow lead, was to launch the ball out of the pitch downhill in the direction of where now stands the Garryowen housing estate.
Time has moved on and rugby is now more popular worldwide, played by more men, women and children than ever before and it has also become far more dangerous. Starting with underage and schools, the rules governing the fielding of the high kick must be changed in the interest of safety. The ‘up and under’ may have originated in Limerick and put the fear across visiting opponents for generations, but we are living in a more ruthless, cynical and merciless era of rugby now.
Over a period of a few days last week I witnessed incidents that sent the shivers down my spine. One was a late and high tackle in a schools game and the other was the George North head injury while playing for Wales in the Six Nations. I was not the only one to squirm when I saw him return to the action a short time later.
The rule that prevents a player to make a tackle while a fielder is in the air is a welcome one but it does not go far enough. Once the fielder’s feet hit the ground he is a legitimate and immobile target for an unfair collision from an opponent whose run has gathered considerable speed since the kick.
It can be argued that, for instance, introducing something like they have in the Aussie Rules where high fielding is rewarded with a free kick from the hands could be the answer. At least it would cut out the boring aerial bombardment that continues to ruin the game as a spectacle.
Let’s hope the IRB review the situation before we regret it.
What other rugby stars in this city played senior soccer with Limerick, you may ask? Well, apart from Paddy Reid there were Ireland legend Tom Clifford and fellow international Jim Tydings as well as Tom Madigan and Mick Crowe all of Young Munster, Martin Clancy and Gerry McCarthy of Shannon, St Mary’s Nicky Hogan, Pat Lawler of Bohs and, of course, Garryowen’s Tony Ward to name but a few!