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Tuesday 24 October 2017

Eamon Keane: He could go into any bar and the fans would go wild

'If life in little places dies
Greater places share the loss
Life, if you wish, may just be called
One passing game of pitch and toss
And yet a nation's life is laid
In places like the Crooked Cross.'
-- Poet Brendan Kennelly

That day is carved into my memory.

Standing on the banks of the Brown Flesk River as it flowed through the village of Currow in County Kerry. Suddenly the river yielded a tall shadow.

The hand rested on my shoulder. "Well, Eamon, where were ya?" A smile as expansive as Carrantuohill, a presence as gentle as it was large. Moss Keane had arrived home .

I was in Kerry shooting an RTE documentary about rugby legend Mick Galwey.

The three musketeers were now present. Moss Keane, Mick Doyle and Galwey had all grown up in Currow. All three (and Tom Doyle) had represented Ireland and the British and Irish Lions at rugby .

When I initially asked Moss to do the documentary it was a case of no problem at all.

When it came to a fee for driving from Dublin the response was "no way", I asked Moss would he at least take expenses? "F ... off, Kane."

Moss in his life helped so many people. John O' Shea's Goal charity , small rugby clubs up and down the country -- all drew from the big heart.

As we ambled along the river bank in Currow, Moss recounted how he used to walk four miles to school. How he loved to work on the land. A farmer's son, Moss flew through college with first-class honours.

Not that he'd ever let you know that.

Moss was a man who felt more on the inside than people knew.

For each pound of might and physicality there was a commensurate one of sensitivity and intelligence. My cousin Billy helped reveal that side in Rucks And Mauls And Gaelic Football, Moss's autobiography which they co-wrote. Moss revealed his human frailty as he told how scared he was after a vicious mugging in Dublin. As someone who also went through that experience I didn't feel so bad when the Gentle Giant revealed his story.

Moss's wit was legendary.

He told me about his international debut against France in Paris in 1974. Ireland lost 9--6. The team had the s**t kicked out of them.

Blood and human tissue everywhere so the story goes. Moss's reaction? "I thought it would be handy if someone had a bucket so we could make a few black puddings." One Frenchman got a Currow warning though. "Beidh la eile, you bollix."

Moss was adored by the fans. There are two people I know that can walk into any bar or indeed stadium and the fans will go wild. Moss is one, Galwey the other.

I think it's because of Moss's humanity: the wit but moreover the vulnerability which the humour sometimes masked. That, and a very genuine love of people and of life itself.

Superstars

That essence truly emerged when Munster beat the All Blacks in Thomond Park in 1978.

Just like now, Ireland was a very broken land back then. We had no superstars to speak of. The All Blacks, meanwhile, arrived in town as the greatest rugby team on earth. When the teams lined out, Moss whispered to Brendan Foley during the haka: "Shall we ask them to dance?" Like the other 14 Munster men, Moss played out of his skin that day.

The farmer's son from Currow had helped plough a harvest of memory for us all.

Peter Wheeler, the former English and Lions hooker, was very fond of Moss.

Wheeler came over to holiday with him in Kerry one summer but claims Moss didn't show up at the train station. Undeterred the Englishman arrived in Currow by taxi and knocked on a local's door.

''Is this Moss Keane's house?'' "Tis sure bring him in,'' came the response.

Tonight the river carries back the heartbeat of its hero. Soon Moss will be laid to rest.

Fellow Kerryman, the poet Brendan Kennelly, wrote in The Crooked Cross about the importance of small village life and its heroes: "A nation's life is indeed laid."

We are all the poorer for Moss's departure. Condolences to Anne, Sarah and Anne Marie.

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