Ní bheidh a leithead ann arís!* 268 caps for Munster over 17 seasons, 94 caps for Ireland, a legend in his own (infamous) red underpants, a consummate professional, a family man and a humanitarian, a joker, a gentleman, ever ready to meet and greet supporters, proud to represent his province and his country.
There was a real sense of shock and disbelief when the news of his imminent departure broke on Wednesday. It is hard to imagine him wearing another club’s jersey or to believe that we will never see him sprinting on to the Munster pitch again! His enthusiasm has never waned, if anything it has increased as his opportunities for game-time decreased. We would often comment about him keeping himself warmed up during games when he was a substitute to ensure he was 100% ready whenever he was called upon. And boy did he love to be called upon, sprinting from the bench to get straight into the action! His professional approach to his fitness, diet and preparation are well-known and it is this which fuels his belief that his career is not coming to a close so when offered a two-year deal at newly promoted Worcester instead of just the remaining season on his contract at Munster he decided to back himself and move there. I believe he has a lot to offer and hope he enjoys the Premiership as Peter Stringer has done. Maybe he will go on to have as long a career as Brad Thorn who only retired recently at 40, maybe he will play on for even longer!
I love this photo which I saw on Twitter recently, taken by Conor Wyse at the pre-season friendly against Grenoble. HIs genuine delight for one of the younger players – Darren Sweetnam – who scored a lovely try that night, his big smile, and the UNICEF gumshield to promote an organisation for which he is proud to be an Ambassador. Indeed earlier this week before the news broke he was sending tweets from his visit to Syrian refugee camps.
I wrote a tribute to Donncha in February 2014 on the occasion of his 241st and record-breaking cap which I reblogged this week but I think he deserves a dedicated piece as regular readers will know that he is one of the few Munster players with whom I have had a conversation. I met him after he lined out with the A team in Donnybrook last October and when I had the pleasure of chatting with him a few weeks later, queueing through security at Manchester airport after the Sale game he told that he believed in giving the same effort to the A team as to the senior team as he remembered his own time trying to show his potential in the A team when some of the more senior players were disinterested. I remember that I had been impressed by young Rory Scannell from the A game and he was full of praise for Rory who has gone on to play with the seniors and even at the Tbilisi Cup last summer. We also chatted about Hallowe’en outfits and Christmas puddings, it was a slow-moving queue and he was good company!
My first chat with him was also at an airport, that time in Edinburgh after the disappointment of the loss in the European game (Oct 2013) and that brief encounter inspired me to name that blog Humility
Even in the recent pre-season friendlies I noted in this blog how he got the biggest cheer when the team was being announced, how he led the attempted charge down of the Grenoble conversions and of the big queue post that match as supporters waited to pose for photos with him. In my recent blog covering the Q&A with Paul O’Connell in August when Paulie was asked who was the second row he most enjoyed playing with he paid such a glowing tribute to Donncha. Brothers-in-arms for so many games, he respected the professionalism and great attitude of Donncha, especially those weeks when he is not selected for the team. In the Irish Examiner Paul is quoted as saying: “I just think when goes over there he will blow them away with his attitude to training. He’s a total, consummate team man, puts the team ahead of himself all the time and his values from a family perspective and as a friend perspective are second to none.”
This tribute could not be complete without the iconic moment when Donncha’s shorts were torn and he decided to play on without any rather than wear a pair of the “wrong” type (elasticized versus draw string).
His line-out prowess is well-known as is his appreciation from an early stage of the value of video analysis which has made him a potent force in competing for the other team’s throws.
The 42.ie put together 7 favourite moments over the years, from the driving Chabal back at pace, to one of his memorable long distance tries at Leicester, the shorts incident and his manic celebrations after the miracle match – worth checking it out here
The outpouring of tributes and best wishes to Donncha can be viewed on Twitter searching the hashtag #FarewellDonncha
We all have many good memories of Donncha over the years. Feel free to share yours in the comments section.
*Ní bheidh a leithead ann arís! translates as we won’t see the like of him here again!
If you are on Facebook you can now “Like” https://www.facebook.com/wtview to get my updates there, or sign up to get an email to let you know when a new post has been published. It would be cool if Donncha checks out the blog sometimes, to keep in touch with proceedings, now that he is one of us, a member of the Red Army 🙂
“Finally I would like to thank the Munster supporters – for over 17 years you have lifted me to play beyond myself and I look forward to going back and joining you in my first role with Munster, as a supporter.” – from the official notice of his departure.
Added Sat: the raw honesty in his interview in the Examiner on Sept 5 is worth reading here
Final word to Oscar? Seems like there is only room for 1 joker and he still holds a grudge from being flattened by Donncha in Tralee some time ago!