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  • Sport

The Galway man denied a very special place in international rugby history by a disallowed score

Wednesday, 25th April, 2012 10:47am

AS THE CONNACHT rugby team bring down the curtain on an eventful, memorable season, it's hugely gratifying to discover that a former star player from Galway city, capped eight times by Ireland in the 1960s, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Connacht awards gala function in the Connemara Coast Hotel, Furbo this Saturday night.

Eamonn McGuire would be known nowadays as a flying openside wing-forward, a specialist No. 7, but back in the early 1960s coming to prominence with a brilliant U.C.G. team he was called simply a back-row forward. What was more notable about him at that time was how good he was. And, remarkably, even though the then Connacht branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union were not permitted to have a representative on the selection committee for the international team, there was huge Western pride when the Ireland team picked to play the New Zealand All-Blacks on their 1963-64 tour of Britain, Ireland, France and Canada had no fewer than four Connacht players — all in the pack: props Ray McLoughlin and PJ Dwyer, No. 8 Tony O'Sullivan and wing-forward Eamonn McGuire.[private]

For a long time, the national selection committee was known as "The Big Five" and it was always two from Leinster, two from Ulster, one from Munster. Connacht had a "sub selector," without the power to vote on a player's selection. Despite that, the West got international recognition as far back as Henry J. Anderson in 1903, followed in the next 60 years by the likes of Sligo-born Aengus McMorrow in 1951; the dynamic Dickie Roche from Woodford, Co. Galway, a student at U.C.G. when he was capped in 1955 and playing for Galwegians two years later when he was capped again; Brendan Guerin and Charlie Lydon in 1956, Tony O'Sullivan of Galwegians and Hubie O'Connor from Ballina the following year, with O'Sullivan's international career lasting to 1964 (15 caps); Johnny Dooley of Galwegians in 1959, and four front-row forwards who got their green jerseys in the early 1960s: Locky Butler, Noel Turley, PJ Dwyer and Ray McLoughlin. Then came Eamonn McGuire in 1963.

From Ravens Terrace in the city, close to the Claddagh, Eamonn first made his name in schools' rugby at St Joseph's College, "The Bish." He played for the Connacht Schools' team of 1956-57 who defeated Leinster and Munster and was young enough to play schools' rugby for another two years, and by 1960 he was on the Connacht senior team. His sprinter's speed helped him to become a try-scorer and after making a big impact playing for U.C.G. he was chosen on the Combined Universities team, which then had considerable prestige, and he crossed the try-line in a match against a Rest of Ireland selection.

At the age of 23, Eamonn received his first international ‘cap' when chosen to play in the back-row alongside No. 8 Ian Dick and Matthew Kiely for the Five Nations match against England at Lansdowne Road, Dublin on February 9th, 1963. Amazingly, the match finished scoreless; McGuire made a satisfactory debut and retained his place, playing in a team with star names such as Jerry Walsh, Pat Casey, Niall Brophy, Mick English, Syd Millar, Ronnie Dawson, Bill Mulcahy (captain) and Bill McBride. Although France beat them that season, Ireland scored a great win over Wales, 14-6.

The young Galway wing-forward was in the Irish team until the final Test match of the 1964 season, away to France, at the Stade Olympique de Colombes on April 11th. By then new stars were emerging for Ireland, including Kevin Flynn, Alan Duggan, Mike Gibson and a colourful, abrasive back-row forward from Cork who would become a legendary figure, Noel Murphy. France won that match 26-6, with some famous names in their team: Christian Darrouy on the left wing, Pierre Albaladejo at out-half, lock forwards Benoit Dauga and Andre Herrero, and wing-forward Michel Crauste, captain.

IN between his first and final ‘cap,' Eamonn Paul McGuire had the honour of playing for Ireland against the most famous touring team in world rugby, the All-Blacks, at Lansdowne Road in early December 1963. Opposing the Irish were some of the greatest ever New Zealand players, such as Don "The Boot" Clarke, Mac Herewini, Earle Kirton, Chris Laidlaw (backs) and captain Wilson Whineray, Colin Meads, Brian Lochore, Kel Tremain and Waka Nathan (forwards). That 30-strong touring party played 34 matches — they won 32, drew one, and lost one in Wales, to Newport by a drop goal to nil.

Ireland were agonisingly close to beating them, too. They lost 6-5, with the Irish pack a whopping six stone lighter than the All-Blacks, and to this day the match is remembered for the Irish try that wasn't awarded by the referee. As we know from Galway city sportswriter and broadcaster Ralph O'Gorman — author of the splendid history of Connacht rugby, published in November 1996 — Eamonn McGuire got over the New Zealand try-line, with the ball, but the referee didn't actually see him ground it and, accordingly, he couldn't award the score. No TMO or "upstairs" in those days, as Ralph O'Gorman puts it, with regret in his voice. Rugby history hung on such a slender thread!

And so the All-Blacks have not yet been beaten on tour here by Ireland. Instead, it's the legendary Munster team of 1978 who are still féted as heroes and have had a smash-hit play written about them. And it's also well remembered that Ireland drew 10-10 with the All-Blacks at Lansdowne Road in January 1973, when Tom Grace ran in for a sensational late levelling try in the corner but Barry McGann just missed with the conversion, which — like Eamonn McGuire's disallowed try — was so near and yet so far from making history.

On the front page of the Irish Times on December 9th 1963, Terence de Vere White wrote: "Herewini, who had looked sinister in the preliminary war dance, was caught again and again by our wing-forwards. McGuire and Murphy must be the most fleet-footed pair that have ever represented us. The All Blacks seemed to be less mobile than our men and more likely to be hustled into mistakes by the quickness of our defenders. Casey's great run in the second half and his cross-kick, reminiscent of FS Hewitt's long ago on the same ground, should have led to a try. I am sure EP McGuire thought so, too."

It is wonderful to see such a distinguished Galway sportsman receive a Hall of Fame honour at this important time for Connacht rugby. How does Ralph O'Gorman remember Eamonn McGuire from the golden days of the 1960s? "As a great player and a lovely man," says Ralph. That surely says it all.

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