Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

My great pal Moss Keane had few airs but so many graces

Giant of Irish rugby: the late Moss Keane

When I got the call early yesterday morning that Mossie's time was up, I had to pause for breath.

We've all known for some time the prognosis was bad, but Maurice Ignatius Keane was, for me and my generation, the truly 'great indestructible'.

And just as he had overcome every conceivable obstacle on rugby fields the length and breadth of the planet, so would he fight this latest challenge for all he was worth.

He did, and how I last spoke to him 12 days ago and though all the signs pointed to him entering the final straight, his take was typically positive: “Yarra Wardy, sure they've changed the medication and treatment at last, the only way is up.”

Deep down, I knew he suspected differently, but true to the Moss I had known, admired and soldiered alongside, he didn't want to burden others with his tale of woe.

To me, he was Maurice Ignatius and to him, I was Wardy – simple and as respectful as that. I had admired him from afar as a schoolboy on the terraces of Lansdowne Road.

I had two rugby-playing heroes when growing up, each made of the same tough and honest stuff: Shay Deering and Mossie Keane.

They were both special, both rugby icons and both lovely, lovely people. Mossie adored the Deero and the Deero reciprocated in kind. The image of Mossie is that of the hard man sculling pints on the eve of the big match. That was grossly over-exaggerated, the stuff of myth and legend. He took his rugby seriously and prepared no differently than Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell, or those of similar ilk. Yes, he lived life to the full and enjoyed the post-match revelry as much as anyone, but he was, first and foremost, a committed team player in all he did.

The real Moss was ball-under-arm, charging bald-headed at the opposition and lifting the Thomond or Lansdowne crowd into a frenzy. He was a player of the people, a Currow man who brought the garrison game to an entirely new audience.

Outwardly, he was the life and soul of the party, but he was also shy, perceptive and at all times extremely sensitive. He cared about people's feelings and never, but never, did anything to cause unnecessary hurt. It was not in his make-up. He wanted to keep everyone happy. Much like the tales of Micheal O Muircheartaigh, there are Moss Keane stories to beat the band.

Former Lansdowne and Ireland team-mate Micky Quinn reminded me of an incident when, after a Lansdowne v Garryowen game in the late 70s, we were enjoying a few bevies in the Lansdowne club bar. Quinny was on the periphery but still managed to overhear Mossie whispering (well hollering) in my ear that I was “the greatest out-half he had ever played with”.

Some time later, he managed to corner the big man in the toilet where he let him have it (in jest of course). “So your man up there is the best out-half you ever played with?”

“Not at all Quinny,” came the reply. “You are by far, it's just that I have to play with the little b****x for Munster.”

That was Maurice Ignatius, always wanting to keep everyone happy, contrary to the couldn't-care-less, hard-man image occasionally portrayed.

Perhaps his great friend and Castleisland legend Con Houlihan summed up Mossie's unique spirit best when he described him as “a man of few airs and many graces”.

For sure, a light in all our lives has gone out. Maurice Ignatius, thanks for the memories. The privilege was ours.

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