Rugby

Presenting Our All-Time Cork Rugby XV

Presenting Our All-Time Cork Rugby XV

We're two days deep into Cork Week at Balls.ie, and with Roy Keane's face already carved into Cork's sporting Mount Rushmore thanks to your votes, it's time to choose who from the rugby world will join him.

As was the case with Cork's iconic footballers of the non-Gaelic description, we've composed an all-time Cork rugby fifteen for your viewing-slash-reading pleasure. Where the soccer equivalent might have done well to earn a mid-table berth in the Premier League, we're confident the People's Republic RFC would hang with the very best at European level.

Here we go...

BACKS

15: Tom Kiernan

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A two-time Lion, and captain of the South Africa tour in 1968. Once listed by Rugby World as one of the greatest fullbacks to ever play the game, the magisterial UCC, Con and Munster game-breaker also captained his country on 24 occasions.

He didn't have searing pace, but his footballing skills were breathtaking; by the time he retired in 1973, he had amassed every Irish rugby record available: Most caps (54), most points (158) and most games as captain, also scoring the most points ever for the Lions as recorded back in 1968.

In his final year, he captained Ireland to their second-best result ever against the All Blacks - a 10-10 draw at Landsdowne Road. Five years later, he went one better on the Kiwis, coaching Munster to one of the greatest results in rugby history.

14: Moss Finn

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Finn made his international debut vs England at Landsdowne Road in '79, with the home side emerging victorious by a scoreline of 12-7. In the four of his 14 Ireland caps that arrived against the Old Enemy between '79 and '86, Finn and Ireland were defeated just once.

The flying winger (who, despite wearing 14 in this hypothetical outfit, admittedly featured more on the left flank than he did on the right) was the youngest member of Tom Kiernan's Munster team which toppled the All Blacks in '78, later heralding Kiernan's preparation for the landmark occasion; amongst other excursions, the Munster squad enjoyed a boat trip up the Shannon.

He now owns Finn's Corner - the institutionalised sportswear store on Cork's Grand Parade, just a five minute walk from Pres, where he attended school.

13: Michael Kiernan

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Nephew of the legendary Tom, 'Mick The Kick' sealed his place in Irish rugby folklore with a Triple Crown-winning drop-goal against England at Landsdowne Road in 1985, after a swashbuckling break by fellow Corkman Donal Lenihan.

The former Irish Schools 200m champion earned 43 caps for his country between 1982 and 1991, scoring six tries and six drop goals, with 40 conversions and 62 penalties taking his points total to 308 - no mean feat for a man who predominantly plied his trade at 12 and 13.

In keeping with the Kiernan rugby dynasty, his two sons - James (24), and Ireland u20 international Paul (21) - both play in the AIL for UCC, with the elder brother crossing the whitewash for College against UL just last Saturday.

12: Jerry Walsh

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Renowned more so for his defensive prowess than his ability to evade tackles, it wasn't until Jerry Walsh' 26th international cap that he managed a try for Ireland. But like a fine Guinness ad, that try arrived during a famous 11-5 victory over Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1967. And just like that, Walsh called it a rugby career in order to pursue another - that of a doctor.

The Sundays Well man was selected for the Lions in 1966 but had to return home before the Tests versus Australia due to the serious ill-health of his father. He did, however, return a year later to score his first and last international try, and had previously toured South Africa with Ireland in 1961.

Walsh earned 26 caps for his country between 1960 and his spectacular swansong Down Under.

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11: Simon Zebo

Zebo's father, Arthur, was born in Martininque - a French-speaking island in the West Indies - and qualified to compete for France in the 800m at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. Injury put paid to Zebo Sr's dream, but it would seem his pace was thankfully hereditary.

Now cemented as a key figure in Joe Schmidt's Ireland setup, his son Simon Zebo earlier this year became Munster's all-time record try-scorer, and has touched down on 47 occasions in 106 appearances for his province - all at the age of just 26 - and is now six clear of Anthony Horgan's previous record (Horgan, for what it's worth, can consider himself fiercely unlucky to miss out on a spot in this XV).

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'Zeebs' has also gone over eight times in 28 caps for Ireland, with the most recent being a crucial score in the corner against some crowd over in Chicago.

Mind you, none of this has arrived as a major surprise to those who witnessed him torch Christians in the 2007 Munster Schools Senior Cup final.

10: Ronan O'Gara

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Born in the other People's Republic, ROG was supposedly scouted by a number of NFL franchises before emigrating to Cork - completely of his own accord - at the age of six months and three days.

A Junior Cup in '92. A Senior Cup in '95. An AIB league. Three interprovincial championships. Three Celtic Leagues. One Celtic Cup. Two Heineken Cups. Four Triple Crowns. One Grand Slam. Three Lions tours. A record 2,625 points in 240 caps for his province. A record 1,083 points in 128 caps for his country. The fourth-highest scorer in international rugby history, and the highest in the history of European club rugby.

Sorry, Ralph Keys.

9: Michael Bradley

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As we duck for cover from the baying mob, allow us to explain why we've opted for Michael Bradley over Peter Stringer at scrum-half: Bradley was a better scrum-half.

Incidentally, Stringer - and not Bradley - is one of our six nominees for the rugby face of our Cork sporting Mount Rushmore; 'Strings' was, and still is, a legend of Cork sport, whose disproportionate impact for Munster and Ireland inspired hordes of rugby-watching youths across the country, earning him cult hero status even outside of Munster. The man transcended the sport in Ireland, constantly defying his critics, hence his Rushmore nomination.

But Michael Bradley in his pomp was a bona fide world class talent in bleaker times for Irish rugby - his sniping runs and playmaking ability at the fringes edging Strings' rocket-like release and 'bigger they are, harder they fall' mantra in this XV at least. Ultimately, Bradley didn't really have critics, such was his talent. He might not be as fondly remembered, but in a one-off game, he's your Corkonian scrum-half.

The former Munster and Ireland captain scored five tries for his country in 40 caps between 1984 and 1995, winning a Triple Crown in 1985 - Ireland's last until 2004.
Bradley was appointed Ireland under-20s coach in 2002, tutoring the likes of Rory Best, Tommy Bowe and John Muldoon amongst others. A year later, he was appointed Director of Rugby at Connacht, while also taking up the Ireland A coaching position. Bradley guided Connacht to three European Challenge Cup semi-finals in his seven-year stint in charge, qualifying for the knockout stages in six of those seven years.

He is currently defensive coach of Georgia.

FORWARDS

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1: John Ryan

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The surprising dearth of looseheads throughout Cork rugby history forces us to turn to relative newcomer Ryan in his old position, although storied Dolphin great and Ireland international Phil O'Callaghan - now 70 - would likely claim he could still do a job in the scrum.

Inniscarra man Ryan is actually 28, but has represented his province at Schools, U20s and Academy level, making the transition into the senior squad as far back as 2010-11. A battle with Ulcerative Colitis - an illness that causes rapid weight loss - has hampered his progress in the intervening six years, but his breakout season has seen Munster and Ireland legend Donal Lenihan call for him to be considered for IRFU Player of the Year.

Ryan has scored two tries in 83 Munster appearances, and made his Ireland debut against Canada three weeks ago.

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2: Terry Kingston

This was a toss-up between Kingston and fellow Munster legend Frankie Sheahan. We sided with the former on the basis that Kingston participated in three Rugby World Cups for Ireland, captaining his country in South Africa in 1995. He earned 30 caps in all for Ireland - just one more than Sheahan - scoring two tries.

In an otherwise barren spell for Irish rugby, Kingston was part of the Ireland team which beat England in both 1993 and 1994. He also captained Munster during their famous 1992 victory over then-world champions Australia at Musgrave Park.

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Following retirement in 1996, Dolphin's Kingston turned his hand to coaching, earning promotion to AIL Division 2 with Midleton RFC at the turn of this decade.

3: Mike Ross

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The 36-year-old began his professional rugby career with Munster before spending three years in London with Harlequins.

Ross has since made a name for himself at another foreign club, scoring his first ever professional try as recently as 2013, having debuted for Ireland on his return in 2009.

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A colossal scrummager and silent guardian during a resurgent period for Irish sport, Ross is the only player in this entire Cork XV who did NOT attend either Christians or Pres in his school days, having started rugby while attending Fermoy's St. Colman's College.

He has earned 61 caps for Ireland.

4: Donncha O'Callaghan

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In many ways a throwback to the 'characters' of yesteryear, but O'Callaghan's professionalism has always remained exemplary. Standing at six-foot-six as far back as fourth year in Christians, he once famously hid beneath a pile of coats for the entirety of a double science class, much to the chagrin of his teacher and Senior Cup coach.

Then, of course, there was Corn Flake-gate from his Munster days. O'Callaghan explained in 2010:

A few of us grabbed a box of cornflakes and brought it down to the local lake or pond and started to feed the ducks, but they started following us, so eventually we got them a little bit further up the road and realised the lads were having a management meeting.

Alan Gaffney and Jerry Holland said all they saw was a door open, and a handful of cornflakes hit the ground, and 12 ducks jump into the team room.

As always, a bit of a backfire, because I ended up cleaning up duck shit for the rest of the day.

But a brief cameo in red y-fronts at Cardiff depicted how outrageously focused O'Callaghan was on the field of play. On the 2009 Lions tour, he handed out the Test jerseys having been left out of the first matchday squad, such was his status amongst his peers across these isles.

Two Heineken Cups and 20 tries for Munster, along with four Triple Crowns, a Grand Slam and 94 appearances for his country, say more than enough.

5: Donal Lenihan

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The iconic Cork lock is as prevalent now as ever; his consistently insightful punditry and Irish Examiner columns over the past 14 years are a testament to the rugby brain which combined with no shortage of brawn throughout his legendary playing career.

His father, Gerald, was an All-Ireland heavyweight boxing champion, and played on the same Gaelic football team as Jack Lynch. Indeed, Lenihan dreamt only of playing for Cork in GAA before attending Christians, where he rapidly developed a passion for rugby.

In a storied international career which saw him establish himself as a towering presence in the Irish lineout, Lenihan won three Five Nations championships and was selected for three Lions tours (though he subsequently missed '83 through injury and the '86 tour would later be cancelled). He famously captained 'Donal's Donuts' - the unbeaten midweek Lions side on the '89 tour of Australia, along with his country during the inaugral Rugby World Cup in 1987.

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6: Peter O'Mahony

O'Mahony was touted as a future Munster and Ireland captain by Brent Pope as far back as his school days at Pres, and has already fulfilled half of that prophecy in a full-time capacity.

An even more gargantuan figure in Cork and Munster since his powerful response - both on and off the pitch - to Anthony Foley's tragic passing, the fit-again O'Mahony is already closing in on legendary status within county, province and indeed country.

At just 27, he has already turned down double-salary offers from France and England to continue on his feverish quest to reestablish Munster atop the Irish and European rugby pecking order, and provided he remains injury-free - which is far from a guarantee considering his flagrant lack of regard for his own safety - will become even more pivotal for Ireland in the coming years, having bulked up significantly during his long-term injury following the Rugby World Cup last year.

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There was once an argument that he was born into the wrong Munster era, but there now remains hope that the Rochestown man can lead a new golden generation.

7: Dave Corkery

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The former Munster and Bristol back-rower earned 27 caps for Ireland before retiring prematurely, aged just 27, in 2000. There was a tragic irony to such a frustrating end, in that Corkery had just returned to Munster from Bristol with a view to prolonging his career in the less demanding Irish club game.

He was renowned for his rib-shuddering hits and reckless abandon at the breakdown, which naturally saw his career blighted with injury throughout - forcing him to withdraw from Ireland's 1999 Rugby World Cup squad, for instance.

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Sadly, he was only hitting his prime at 27, having curtailed some of that overzealousness from his earlier years. His commitment and physicality is fondly remembered at both Cork Con and Munster, and has translated somewhat to his 'outspoken' approach to coaching in Ireland.

Following the defeat of his Young Munster side to former club Cork Con in the Munster Senior Cup final earlier this year, Corkery exclaimed to the Irish Times:

When you have a player pulled from you the day before the game for a fucking Ireland Sevens training camp after what we have gone through all year, it’s a disgrace.

The IRFU need to have a serious look at themselves in the mirror. They pulled some of the Cork Con guys for an Irish U-20s practice game. If that’s how they treat the Munster Senior Cup with more than 100 years of history, they need to seriously look at themselves.

A Cork man falling out with the establishment? Surely not.

8: Noel 'Noisy' Murphy

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Noel Arthur Augustine Murphy won 41 caps for Ireland between 1958 and 1969, scoring five tries and captaining his country on five occasions.

A Five Nations ever-present in eight total championships, 'Noisy' drew the curtain on his Ireland career with a punch-up versus Welsh lock Brian Price - this following a try in a famous 17-15 win over England in 1969.

Murphy scored four tries on the 1959 Lions tour, travelling again with the '66 team and dotting down on three occasions - the third of which arrived during the Lions' second Test against Australia. Usually deployed as a flanker, his prolific ability with ball in hand has seen us edge him to no.8 here, ahead of stalwarts such as James Coughlan.

Murphy went on to coach the Lions in 1980, having taken the helm at Cork Con, Munster and Ireland respectively between 1977 and that same touring year. He has also served as president of Cork Con, the Munster Branch and the IRFU, and is currently one of Ireland's representatives at the IRB.

'Honourable mentions'

George Beamish, Charles Beamish, Jim McCarthy, Phil O'Callaghan, BJ McGann, Dominic Crotty, Billy Holland, James Coughlan, Tomás O'Leary, Peter Stringer, Anthony Horgan, Frankie Sheahan, John Kelly, Tony Buckley.

SEE ALSO: Revealing Our All-Time Cork Soccer XI

Gavan Casey
Article written by
Former handwriting champion. Was violently bitten by a pelican at Fota Wildlife Park in 2001.

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