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Jack's emotional return

By Gavin Mairs

It will be an emotional return for Jack Kyle to Ravenhill tonight. The legendary out-half is one of the small band of brothers who knows what it was like to play a international game at the old Belfast venue.

The IRFU has invited the surviving members of the last side to play a full international at Belfast - a 6-0 victory over Scotland back in February 27, 1954.

Captain Jim McCarthy, Maurice Mortell, Ronnie Kavanagh and Gerry Reidy are all expected to attend.

It will be a poignant reunion for them all, even if, and whisper this, Kyle, widely acknowledged to be the finest out-half ever to play the game, for the first time in his glorious international career had been over-looked for selection.

" I think I was dropped. I think Seamus Kelly played that day," said Kyle, who won 46 caps for his country as well as starring for the British Lions in New Zealand and Australia in 1950.

"I suppose you are not really a player if you aren't dropped!

"I think it was the first time I was dropped. I was injured for the game against England. I went to Twickenham, but I couldn't play and John Hewitt played.

"So for the game in Belfast I think I was a sub. I have a recollection of being on the bus that day, picking up the guys from the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast. But you didn't have to worry as a sub. You didn't even have to bring your togs because you knew no matter what happened you were never going to get on, unless the player tripped over tying his boot laces before the game!"

While Kyle cut a frustrated bystander at Ravenhill that day, it was a very different story six years previously when he inspired Ireland to their sole Grand Slam triumph with a 6-3 victory over Wales in front of 30,000 delirious supporters.

"The greatest memory of playing internationals at Ravenhill was winning the Grand Slam," said Jack, now 81.

"Especially the scenes after the final whistle. I can still see Jack Daly with the shirt torn off his back and supporters taking bits of sod up from where he scored what turned out to be the winning try.

"And I can remember his wonderful remark as he returned to the half way line: "If Wales don't score again I will be canonised!"

"The atmosphere was unbelieveable.

" Sammy Walker was the commentator that day and he lost his microphone in the commotion.

"Like a lot of things looking back, it was another game that we won but we never realised nobody was going to win the Grand Slam again in our lifetimes.

"We have been dining out on it ever since and we are looking forward to dining out on it again next year for the 60th anniversary of it."

It was at Ravenhill in 1953 that a breathtaking solo try by Kyle against France prompted a newspaper scribe to parody "The Scarlet Pimpernel" with the lines:

" They seek him here, they seek him there

Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.

That paragon of pace and guile,

That damned elusive Jackie Kyle."

Kyle's other highlights however date back to when he was just starting out on his Ireland career.

" Ireland during the later war years used to play as an Irish XV with no caps awarded. They used to play the British Army at Ravenhill and at Christmas 1945 Karl Mullen and I played our first game together. We were both just 19.

"My opposite number was a very famous rugby league man called Gus Risman whose son Bev went on to play rugby union for England."

Kyle is delighted that the Ireland team has returned to Belfast after all these years, though as a player he was more than happy to make the trip to Lansdowne Road.

"I think the majority of people felt that Lansdowne Road was the better ground and it was the central point.

" I think like most young people, we were always happy to, " he added with a smile.

"We Ulster players didn't mind at all. I think the spectators minded more than the players did. In Dublin we were put up in the Shelbourne Hotel which was always an added little bonus.

"But it is a great thing that Ravenhill is available to play internationals again and one hopes we would see many more in this era of touring sides coming over every year.

"It gives the game in Ulster such a boost and enables young people to see their heroes in the flesh."

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