Wednesday, October 06, 2010

So. Farewell Then, Moss Keane

Moss Keane, second row forward for Lansdowne, Munster, Ireland and the Lions, was claimed by cancer at the ridiculous age of sixty-two yesterday. Des Fitzgerald, the former Irish tight head prop forward now famous as Luke Fitzgerald’s Da, said on the TV news yesterday that Moss Keane brought rugby to the masses in Ireland. Fitzgerald was correct.

When the nation saw Moss Keane in the emerald green jersey of Ireland, we saw someone who was recognisably ourselves. Rugby has always been an elitist game in Ireland, something the IRFU seem quite content to maintain, but there’s something in the fundamental nature of the game, the hard smashing intensity of the thing, that chimes with the Irish spirit, even outside of the rugby heartland of the country.

Rugby’s heartland exists in very small pockets in Ireland. That heartland is bigger now because of the Golden Generation but even though the heartland has always been small the fanbase for the national side is many times bigger. That’s because of the fundamental appeal of the game to Irish spirit, and the fact the nation has spent so many years welcoming the spring by watching the national rugby team playing regularly in the Five Nations Championship on Sports Stadium on RTÉ 1 with your host, Brendan O’Reilly.

The nation outside the pale respected great players like Phil Orr or Michael Kiernan, or the great Ulstermen who didn’t need to hear Ireland’s Call wafting on the breeze to come to Dublin and wear the green for an all-Ireland team, but we knew little of them beyond the national cause. But when the Irish nation looked at Willie Duggan, at Ciarán Fitzgerald or at Moss Keane, we saw ourselves, and liked what we saw.

Rugby was an infinitely simpler game in the amateur era. There was no lifting in the lineout, there were proper scrums and games were won because heroes seized the day and not because assignments were missed and gameplans incorrectly executed.

The international games of the amateur era, with its combination of ritualistic pomp and battle done between dentists and dustmen, farmers and financiers, was a combination of medieval pageant and a nineteenth century faction fight. And for Ireland in the 1970s and 80s, the man in the van with either lance or shillelagh as appropriate was Maurice Ignatius Keane.

Was Moss Keane the greatest player of his generation? Probably not, but the fact he was never dropped in a nine year career from 1975 to 1984 should say something about the man’s ability as a player, behind the image of the hard pinting and messing.

But more than that, Moss Keane’s larger than life personality gave the nation outside of the private schools of Cork and Dublin, the dreary steeples of the North and extraordinary independent republic of rugby that is Limerick, a reason to love the team and celebrate their deeds.

There wasn’t a lot going on Ireland in the 1980s. Johnny Logan winning the Eurovision in 1981 with What’s Another Year was enough to get a half-day off school. The Triple Crown wins of the Ciarán Fitzgerald era were a precursor to the great deeds of the soccer team under Jack Charlton. And there in the middle of it in 1982 was the man with the funny name and the country accent, busting fellas and laying them out. One of our own.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh anam cróga uasal Moss Keane, agus go raibh sé ina sheasamh ard arís i síntí amach ar ghoirt ghlasa na Flaithis.