MOSSY Lawler called time on his decorated playing career on Saturday last. Shortly after 4pm, the 35-year-old was applauded off the back pitch at Thomond Park by a combination of his UL-Bohs team-mates and players from their AIL 1B opponents, Corinthians.
Seventeen seasons playing adult rugby ending. Two successful Heineken Cup campaigns, five AIL medals, eight Munster Senior Cup wins, an All-Ireland Cup medal. A journey through UL-Bohemian, Shannon, Munster, London Wasps.
Reflecting on his stellar career to the Limerick Leader this week, dynamic utility back Lawler says he owes a lot in to his mother. His father Pat, an accomplished sportsman, died on a rugby pitch when Mossy was just three years of age. It would have been easy if she had steered Mossy down a different path, away from rugby. But she chose not to.
Mossy Lawler said: “My dad actually died on the rugby pitch which is scary (playing an inter-firm game with De Beers of Shannon). It’s something I have to thank my mum for. She could have sheltered me from the game and kept me away from it, but she always supported me in everything I did.
“She let me play rugby when I know there are a lot of parents out there, especially nowadays, that would have completely hidden me from the game.
“My dad was a massive Bohs man. That is where I started off playing rugby. It’s funny. It was my cousin Colm Tucker who brought me to Shannon at a young age and it is funny that it was Colm who brought me back to Bohs’. It is amazing how these things work out and how the story is written. Rugby is in my blood.”
Lawler’s passion for the game drew deeper at Ardscoil Ris and the fleet-footed player was a member of the first side from the school to reach a Munster Schools Senior Cup final in 1996.
He made his All-Ireland League debut with Shannon as a raw 18-year-old, played U-20s for Ireland along with Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan, before captaining his country at U-21 level.
Lawler said: “After I finished school, to be honest, college wasn’t really in my thoughts. I wasn’t the studious type. I put everything into rugby which I kinda regretted a little in later life because I ended up studying through my professional career.
“After school I went to LIT to study Construction Studies. I finished that, but I didn’t really enjoy college. It wasn’t for me. Thankfully, I got contracted by Munster then the following summer.”
“I made my Munster debut in a triangular series with Bath and Wasps in Thomond Park. But my first competitive cap was against Caerphilly in Wales in 2001. It was the day of 9/11. Obviously it is something I will never forget. I remember standing before the game.
“I was nervous in any case, but when you’ve seen the planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York on the screens and on the telly and it hits home then, that it is only a game. We won that evening.
THE MIRACLE MATCH AND GLORY DAYS AT MUNSTER
“It was a strange week leading up to the ‘Miracle Match’ with Gloucester in 2003 . We came home from Perpignan after getting absolutely hammered. It was all doom and gloom. Our Tuesday training session was fairly poor. Then we got to Thursday.
“I don’t know if was Mick (Galwey) or whoever who kinda took us into the circle and said why are we feeling sorry for ourselves, we have nothing to lose. Let’s just go out and enjoy Saturday. The week started from there.
“Before the game we didn’t have any idea that we needed to win by 27 points. We just knew we needed to win with a bonus point. I don’t think even Rog (Ronan O’Gara) knew when he was taking that conversion that we really needed those two points. After we were told we needed to win by 27 points.”
“It is always nice to score especially on big days. The fact the four were scored against Gloucester that day was the most important thing. A lot of people were slagging me that if there was a TMO on the day, they don’t know? But I am 100% sure it was a try!
“I finished with Munster in 2008. 2006 was a special year. I played in the six pool matches, but got injured for the quarter-final and never made it back into the team for the semi-final or final. That was a special year. No matter who was there that year, Munster would have won because everyone was so driven.
“2008 was a funny year. It was the year I finished with Munster, but I was injured all year. I lost my contract at the end of the season because I couldn’t stay fit. I had two bulging discs in my neck. When I came back from that I tore my groin off the bone. That would do it alright!
“Yet, the day of the Heineken Cup final and the whole build-up, it was really exciting for the lads. It was a strange year for me.”
GETTING CUT BY MUNSTER
“There is no sentimentality in professional rugby. It is a business at the end of the day. If you can’t provide what they are looking for, if you can’t stay fit, be on the field and do your job, you can’t be kept on.
There was a reality there as well. Obviously, I was unbelievably bitterly disappointed. I was hurt. I would have liked to have been given another chance. But the reality was that I didn’t play one senior game that year.”
“When I lost my contract, Tony McGahan came in the next year as head coach. He asked me would I come on board the backroom team as video analyst.
At the time, I hadn’t anything else agreed. I thought this could be a good career pathway as coaching was something I fancied doing.
“I came on board, but unfortunately it wasn’t really for me. I am more a tracksuit and whistle man, being out on the pitch rather than sitting behind a computer for 10 hours a day. It didn’t work out and Tony completely understood.
“In the meantime I got a call from Wasps in England, about October time, wondering would I come over. . I was back fit at the time. I took the opportunity. Jeremy Staunton, Eoin Reddan and Damien Varley were over there then. It was a great year. Tim Payne, Josh Lewsey, Riki Flutey, Danny Cipriani were there too. I wouldn’t change it for the world. Things were going well for me. I had started three games. We played Sale on St Stephen’s Day and I tore my groin again. That was it. I didn’t play again for the rest of the season. After that I just knocked professional rugby on the head.”
“I was 29, going on 30. It was very hard, especially the fact that I didn’t have anything to fall back on either. That is why I am a massive believer in making sure that the guys I am involved with in the Connacht Academy have an education behind them, that they are doing something outside of rugby. It can end so quickly.
“I came back home,got fit again and played for Shannon. I didn’t want to give up the game fully. I still had a real passion for it, but I knew professional rugby, my body just couldn’t handle it. I went back to college as well, doing a degree in strength and conditioning through Setanta College. I started my coaching, volunteering with Munster, working with the Academy for a year and I helped coach with the U-19s and U-20s.”
“A massive thought process went into my decision to move from Shannon to UL-Bohs. No disrespect to the other clubs, but I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else.
“The fact my dad played with Bohs and I started my career there as well, it was hard to go. But that softened the blow I suppose. Obviously with Colm (Tucker) there, who I had worked with at Shannon, it made things a lot easier.
“The offer of being Academy Manager and putting my own stamp on things was a massive influence. That gave me the experience to kick on and be in the job I am in today with Connacht.”
BIGGER, STRONGER, FITTER
“The size of the kids these days is fairly scary. There was a photo put up of me on Twitter last week from Ulster Bank Rugby from one of my first years playing with Shannon.
“I would say I was 75kg at most. There are kids in school now at 100kg which is scary. The level at training now is so different. Schools Senior Cup sides are back training in June when school doesn’t start back til September.
“Everyone is at it and if they don’t do it they get left behind. Is it right? There is obviously questions marks over that, but if you don’t do it you won’t achieve where you want to go.”
MAKING THE BIG CALL
“Towards the end of last season, I was 34 and my neck flared up again towards the last couple of games.
“At home, there were days when I had difficulty picking up my own son. When that happens you are asking yourself if it is really worth it? Yet, come pre-season, the love and the want kicks in again. I said I would give it one more year. I always intended finishing this year.”
“It was an emotional day. I knew it was coming for a whole year, but you can’t prepare yourself for the actual day when it is going to happen.
“I woke up on Saturday morning and my wife said, ‘you knew this was coming.’ But it just make things any easier. I was sick to myself. It was a real strange feeling, but I just couldn’t have asked for a better day.
“The club were unbelievable, the words they spoke about em before the game. Obviously we got the win and then after the game to be clapped off by both teams at the end says a lot. It was very humbling to be honest.
“The club made a presentation to me which meant a lot. I was so happy we had our place in 1B for next season secured before Saturday’s game. I could go out and relax, rather that sweat on other results.”
“In the three years I ran the UL-Bohs Academy it gave me great experience. I just saw the job Elite Player Development Officer with the Connacht Academy advertised, applied for it and got it.
“When we get a full compliment of players back from the senior side and the Irish U-20s squad, I will be in as Connacht U-20s coach as well. I am really looking forward to a fresh start for myself.
“I am really looking forward to pre-season. Coaching is the plan. Rugby is all I know and it has given me everything I have in my life. The longer I can stay in it the better. This job at Connacht is classed as a pro job, so it gives you a taste of what might come in the future.
“I want to push on and become a professional coach with a full-time pro team. If that is here in Connacht, absolutely brilliant. If not, we will have to look at other options. The dream is to stay in rugby as a pro coach.”