herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

He simply loved people -- and they loved him in return

Moss Keane's pathway from the unlikely starting point of the village of Currow, in North Kerry, in 1948 to a nationally mourned sporting icon in 2010 appears, on the surface at least, to have been, like the man himself, somewhat unconventional; as with the man himself though, appearances can be highly deceptive.

He came to rugby late, following the removal of the GAA's ban on foreign games in 1971, and having won a coveted Sigerson Cup with UCC, within 12 months was facing the All Blacks in the red of Munster.

There followed one of the longest and most distinguished careers in Irish rugby, with him winning 51 caps in an international career spanning 11 years from 1974 to 1984.

To put that in context, he was only the third Irish forward, after his great friends Wille John McBride and Fergus Slattery, to achieve a half-century of international appearances.

He also represented the British and Irish Lions in 1977, one of only four Irishmen to do so that year, and in 1978 he enjoyed one of his greatest moments, as a cornerstone of the now-famous Munster team that overcame the New Zealand All Blacks at Thomond Park. Membership of the 1982 Triple Crown-winning team was the other high-point of a magnificent representative career.

However, this giant of a man, even by rugby's standards, was one of the more gentle of the species; the second-row forward, an ever-present bulwark of packs with UCC, Lansdowne, Munster and Ireland, not only provided the physical foundation on which those teams were built, but at the same time was the fulcrum of most of the enjoyment within the group, a vital element of any successful team, especially in those amateur days. Moss was never one for hyperbole -- he was much too articulate -- nor would he appreciate excessive or gushing tributes. It's not an exaggeration, however, to say that his formidable on-pitch presence was matched, if not indeed surpassed, away from the field of play.

Humour

Rarely comfortable in the limelight, when you met him in private he exuded personality, humour, and an appetite and appreciation for life, in all its guises. He simply loved people, and people loved him in return.

Anyone lucky enough to have played with or against him experienced the special warmth he reserved for playing colleagues, on and off the pitch, and those who knew him well speak with awe of a deep fount of generosity and basic human respect for all with whom he came in contact.

He epitomised life to the extent that, while his passing wasn't unexpected, it will be difficult to accept that the rich Kerry brogue is no more -- silence and Moss didn't make for easy partners.

The void will never be filled, especially so for his wife Anne and their daughters Sarah and Anne Marie; they should, however, draw some consolation from the knowledge that their Moss has woven his wonderful personality into the fabric of a nation, and that the nation is very much the better for that.

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