Everyone knows of Munster’s famous win over New Zealand in 1978 but five years earlier they drew with them in Musgrave Park. It’s a game that Seamus Dennison can vividly recall. Daniel Tighe reports
Forty years on Abbeyfeale man, Seamus Dennison, fondly remembers 1973. As well as being a key member of the Munster team that heroically drew with the All Blacks, it was also the year of his first Irish cap.
Dennison, currently enjoying his first year of retirement from a career in teaching in Roscrea, is amazed people are still interested in his playing days all these years later. His tackle on Kiwi flier, Stu Wilson, in the historic 1978 victory has ensured his place in rugby folklore. But a return of three international caps were scant reward for his stellar club career.
While still in school, a young Dennison went to see his heroes take on the All Blacks at Thomond Park in 1963: “I would have been in (school in) Mungret at the time and we were all taken in to see the match. There would have been a number of players that I would have watched and admired, like Tom Kiernan and Jerry Walsh.
Small of stature but big of heart, Walsh made a big impression on the similarly slight Dennison: “I remember him in Cork in ‘67, where Munster played and beat Australia. He was absolutely brilliant, he wasn’t one of these big mountains of men but he could tackle like a demon.”
Six years later he was in the thick of it himself as Munster played New Zealand in Musgrave Park.
“I remember we were very much in the game, it was only the last couple of minutes that they kicked a penalty to draw it. We were actually winning 3-0 with a very small amount of time left,” recalls Dennison of that 1973 encounter.
Trevor Morris, the man who denied the Munster team of 1973, was an unlikely villain. The Kiwi full-back who missed all seven kicks at goal just two weeks previously in a previous tour match in England was not expected to convert a difficult penalty. But he did and with it extinguished that particular Munster vintage a shot at sporting immortality.
It was not Dennison’s last shot at the All Blacks, however, and he believes the drawn match was instrumental to their victory five years later: “Well it [the experience] certainly helped me, we would have been very fearful that time in ‘73, most of the ‘78 team was in and around at that time and it certainly helped.”
Having performed well in a seven-a-side tournamnet in Scotland, he lined out against France the next week for his first Irish cap: “It was the culmination of all my dreams, something you don’t forget.
“It was more difficult for a Munster back to get on an Irish team at that time than it is now. There is no doubt that there was [bias] for a back anyway, I would have felt.”
When asked if this bias in any way soured Munster players towards representing their country, Dennison was adamant in his response: “Oh God no, you still wanted to get on, no definitely not, you just got on with it, you kept trying. The pinnacle of anybody’s rugby career is to play for your country.”
He admits as a supporter, however, that the lure of his beloved Munster is stronger than the national team: “I must admit, I would find more enjoyment going to watch Munster, more excitement going to Thomond Park than going to Lansdowne Road. I rarely miss a Heineken Cup match.”
And given that he juggled his rugby committments with work and study, would he like to have played in the professional era himself?
“It would have been exciting and it’s great for the young fellas now days but having said that, it’s a job for them. I’d still like to think the game is played like we played; from the heart but it’s a different game nowadays.”
Even for the trappings of the modern professional game, Dennison is unlikely to trade his 40 plus years as a teacher.
“I enjoyed it [teaching] immensely, I always looked forward to going to work, to going back in September.”
“Rugby was only a pastime.”
But what a great way to pass the time.