St Mary's College RFC Lions


St Mary’s College Lions


It was a spring day in 1971 when the news came.  Sean Lynch had been selected for that summer’s Lions trip to New Zealand.  No mobile phones, but lots of mobile persons so soon the club, then at College Park, was abuzz and bulging with players, members, supporters, family and friends.  It turned out to be a long and memorable night of genuinely affectionate celebrations, for our first Lion.

Sean went to New Zealand on that most famous tour and played in the three tests.  He was hailed as the supreme tighthead prop, demolishing the All Blacks’ best loose-heads.  So the St Marys Lions story began with an exceptionally good and kind man, a mighty man, our Lion King.  

In 1974, two more Marys’ men were selected for the Lions tour to South Africa, Tom Grace a big strong and clever winger, highly competitive and John Moloney, the consummate athlete, sportsman and brilliant scrumhalf. They both had successful tours and Johnny had the distinction of playing in two positions for the Lions, scrumhalf and winger.  Both Tom and Johnny captained their country.  John was captain of St Marys twice. Tom is currently IRFU Hon Treasurer and Lions Chairman, a wonderful honour.

It was in 1980 that two more Marys men were honoured, Fullback Rodney O’Donnell and outhalf Tony Ward.  This tour was again to South Africa.  Rodney was a pioneer of fullback play, perfecting fullback attack play, but also being the first fullback to bound up two or three feet to catch the ball, and being comfortable in catching the ball (then of greasy leather) over his head.  Tony Ward was multi-talented, he was top class football (real football – soccer) player and a marvellous outhalf he could turn defences and leave defenders grasping air; he left audiences gasping and girls swooning.  Rodney was the test fullback but a bad injury finished his career; a true shame.

In 1983 the Lions visited New Zealand again and this time a Marys’ man was to captain them, Ciaran Fitzgerald.  Originally he was a West of Ireland man, Ciaran who was an army officer stationed in Dublin, fortunately played for Marys, captaining the club earlier in 1978-79 and captained Ireland to a Triple Crown win in 1982. He later was captain of Ireland in 1985 when again the Triple Crown was won. He was a superb leader, and a top class hooker.

Paul Dean, the current Ireland Team Manager, was selected to tour in Australia in 1989, sadly he only started one game, was injured and had to go off. Paul was the new era outhalf who could run a backline superbly, he had passing hands the like of which has seldom been seen.  He was exciting and positive.

Vincent Cunningham following on a brilliant tour of New Zealand with Ireland in 1992, he was selected to return there on the Lions Tour 1993.  Vincent had the ability to play outhalf, first and second centre.  He was very skilful, fast and strong, endowed with perfect balance and marvellous hands.

In 2001 Australia was to say hello To Malcolm O’Kelly, all 6’ 9” of him. He thrived there and made a strong impact. Malcolm, was remarkable in his skills.  Often very big men have not the subtle dexterity of smaller athletes.  Not with Mal however, he exuded athleticism.  He had an admirable rugby brain and loved nothing better than covering breaks and making try saving tackles in the corner. Of course being a second row forward, saw him in the scrum and lineout and of course in the lineout he was supreme.  He was first capped in 1997 and went on the Lions Tour of Australia in 2001.  He was did extremely well and was selected to go to New Zealand in 2005, only to be injured in the pre-tour training camp in Wales. He was part of the Grand Slam squad in 2009.

In 2005, Denis Hickie was selected and successfully toured New Zealand.  He was possibly Ireland’s fastest ever winger (under 11 seconds for 100M).  His family being steeped in Marys’ rugby, he followed in their footsteps.  That pace was feared.  He also covered well and he had a fine left foot. Denis is a most sincere and honourable man, he has made a major contribution to Irish and St Marys’ rugby.  He continues to do so and is very involved in St Mary’s College rugby development.

There will be little need to profile our next Lion.  That of course is Jonathan Sexton, (Jonno to all at Marys) who toured Australia in 2013 with the Lions and was outstanding as the test outhalf.  It is very probable that he will carry the same mantle for the 2017 tour.  Since school days he has been a star and a dedicated rugby man.  He is the supreme half back with control and vision, the man who can read a game and devine the chinks in defence.  He has the complete game, a big defence to add to his guile and flair in attack and his kicking is celestial.

A special word for Big Jack, Jack the Giant Killer.  Jack McGrath has joined the elite band of St Marys’ players, he is our latest Lion and he now ensures we have a complete front row, with the Lion King, Sean our first Lion, and Jack our latest sandwiching our Captain Lion, Ciaran.  How well Jack deserves his call up.  Jack, since his school international days, has ever been on the way up.  He has worked relentlessly to develop to one of the greatest loose-head props in the world, at a time of fierce power, skill and great size in the front row.  He is an admirable young man who champions many causes that are vital to young persons in these times of intense social pressures.  He is the perfect role model, full of hard work and dedication, yet also full caring and compassion.  All will wish Jack well for his first tour to the awful, challenging fields of beautiful New Zealand.

Most unusually, All 12 Lions played regularly for Marys in their times and nine of those 12 wonderful Marys’ Lions went to school and played their rugby at St Mary’s College Rathmines.  Mal O’Kelly’s father, Colm went there too.

D O’Brien