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Moss Keane death: Mourners line out to hail rugby legend

Tributes flooded in last night to rugby legend Moss Keane (62), who was hailed as "a gentle giant" of Irish sport.

Moss was diagnosed with cancer in early 2009 and lost his courageous battle against the disease yesterday.

He died at his home outside Portarlington, Co Laois, surrounded by his family including his wife Anne and daughters Sarah and Anne-Marie.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the entire nation mourned the former Munster and Ireland rugby star.

"Moss Keane was one of the finest rugby players Ireland has ever produced. He was among rugby's best-known characters and a legend of the game at home and abroad, representing Munster, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions with great distinction. He was also an accomplished Gaelic footballer in his younger days," Mr Cowen said.

"Moss will, of course, always be associated with the heroic Munster side of 1978 that defeated the All Blacks at Thomond Park. His loss will be felt most deeply by those who knew him best. I want to extend my deepest sympathies to Moss's family."

The Republic's Sports Minister Mary Hanafin said: "Moss will be remembered as one of Kerry and Ireland's greatest-ever sporting heroes. He was one of Ireland's best-loved figures, both on and off the pitch, a gentle giant of Irish rugby."

Fellow Kerryman and Ireland rugby star Mick Galwey said few sportsmen could ever match Moss's stature both on and off the pitch.

"He was a true colossus of a man -- he will go down as one of the all-time greats," he said.

"He was very brave about the whole thing. He had cancer and he wasn't afraid to talk about it. He fought it every step of the way."

GOAL chief executive John O'Shea, a long-time friend, said Moss was one of the most generous sportsmen ever to pull on an Irish jersey.

"Moss Keane was a GOAL patron for more than 30 years. He travelled overseas with GOAL and visited our street children's programme in Kolkata (Calcutta), where he was visibly moved by what he saw. He was a magnificent humanitarian. GOAL has lost a great champion, and the poor have lost a wonderful friend," Mr O'Shea said.

IRFU president Caleb Powell said the rugby world was all the poorer for Moss's passing.

"Quite simply, Irish rugby has lost one of its most genuine characters and legends of the game. His reputation will live long in the memories of not only Irish rugby, but world rugby," he declared.

Mr Powell said Moss would be best remembered for the generosity of spirit with which he played the game.

Moss's close friend and fellow Kerry sports star, TD Jimmy Deenihan (FG), said it was a heartbreaking loss not just for the rugby star's many friends but for the Irish nation as a whole.

"It is no exaggeration to say that Moss was one of the best-known Kerrymen of his generation and he retained a deep affection for Currow, where he was born," he said.

Mayo TD John O'Mahony (FG) said Moss was the life and soul of every room he walked into.

"Moss is rightfully regarded as a true sporting great, whose broad shoulders carried the weight for Lansdowne, Munster, Ireland and the Lions," Mr O'Mahony said.

Moss Keane's remains will repose at Maher's Chapel of Rest, Portarlington from 4.30pm today, with removal following at 6.45pm to St Michael's Church, Portarlington.

He will be buried after 1pm Requiem Mass tomorrow at St Michael's Cemetery.

Legend maintained his sense of humour to the end

By Sean Diffley

Moss Keane's famed sense of humour was there to the end. "You know what," he told all and sundry, "I think that the chemo has improved my golf swing."

It may well have, but when Willie Duggan, John O'Driscoll and Fergus Slattery visited him recently at his home in Portarlington, he was too weak to accompany them to the golf course.

Moss has passed on, a mere 62, just a couple of decades since he played the last of his 51 matches for Ireland. He was an automatic choice in each of those successive internationals.

In 1977, he was in New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions where he played in a Test against the All Blacks.

And, of course, he was a member of that unique Munster team in 1978 that beat New Zealand at Thomond Park.

Moss hailed from Currow, which he described as "just down the road from Castleisland", a remarkable etching in the history of Irish rugby, a small place that has produced not alone Moss, but also Mick Galwey and the Doyle brothers, Mick and Tom -- and Con Houlihan, who admitted he often played for the local club in his bare feet.

After school in St Brendan's, Killarney, Moss got his Masters in Dairy Science at UCC, where he captained the Gaelic football team to a Sigerson Cup.

He had dabbled in some of the college's junior rugby sides, but on Easter Sunday 1971, he played in what he has described as "my first legal rugby game because on that same day the GAA lifted its ban on Gaelic players playing other sports".

Moss has written (with Billy Keane) about his UCC coach, Dr Billy O'Sullivan, who firmly believed that "GAA recruits to rugby are more natural ball handlers. Some so-called rugby experts only kick a ball when they accidentally miss someone's arse".

Moss's riposte to that was: "I could be better in jumping in the line-outs but I have a fear of heights."

So with his Masters degree in his hip pocket and a first appearance for Munster against Ulster -- in direct opposition to Willie John McBride -- and a first job in what he described as the butter department of the Department Of Agriculture, Moss became a resident of Dublin city and a member of Lansdowne football club.

His first cap came in January 1974 against France at the Parc des Princes and just before that auspicious occasion the rugby correspondent of this newspaper -- my good self -- arranged an official interview with the new Irish second-row.

Moss was living in Rathgar, so we met in Murphy's pub and in Moss's words: "The interview lasted a long while and we enjoyed a drink as we spoke. The following morning I was at my desk when the phone rang. It was Sean. He couldn't remember a word I had told him. I strongly suggested that our next meeting be held in a cafe."

Deadlines were a bit more elastic in those days, obviously.

Moss scored just a single try for Ireland, but lock forwards don't tend to make the list of try scorers very often. That try was against Scotland at Lansdowne Road in 1980, a game Ireland won 22-15.

It was Moss's 26th cap and he describes that memorable moment as "Donal Spring passing me the ball and I trotted for six or seven yards before I crashed through one tackle and flopped down in the corner".

Ireland beat Scotland and Wales that season, but lost to England and France. Moss's second-row partners were Jim Glennon and Brendan Foley.

Moss was a great player, and a perfect sportsman, always disdaining anything unfair, but he is universally respected not just as a legend but as naturally humourous and affectionate, someone who leaves this world a better place and not just in rugby.

He will be sadly missed, not just by Anne and Sarah and Anne-Marie, to whom we send our condolences, but by all of us in Irish sport.

Sean Diffley was the Irish Independent rugby correspondent from 1972 to 1995

Belfast Telegraph