To many it was the game that heralded the arrival of professional rugby in Ireland, the game that planted the seeds of “The Golden Generation”, the game that announced Ireland’s greatest rugby player on the big stage. It was Sunday 19 March 2000, Paris, France 25 – Ireland 27.
Almost 14 years on and the Irish rugby team will travel to Paris again, in transition and looking for a few fresh players to step up to the plate. So, is Irish rugby back to square one? No. We have a Grand Slam to our name, numerous Heineken Cups, a deeper pool of resources than we ever could have imagined a decade and a half ago, a provisional set up that other European countries drool at, the prospect of George Hook’s retirement and an impressive back drop of retired players looking to instill their wisdom on the new generation – many of whom played that fateful day.
Full Back: Girvan Dempsey
The man tasked with the tough job of filling Conor O’Shea’s boots after an injury cut his career all too short. It was performances such as the one in Paris that cemented Dempsey’s place at number 15 for Ireland and would lead the Terenure man onto a total of 81 caps. Up against Emile N’Tamack, Dempsey faced a tough afternoon of high balls being pinged at him and tough running through his channel. Whatever he learnt that day and throughout the rest of his career is now being bestowing on younger ears in his role and Academy Manager at Leinster.
Wing: Kevin Maggs
Used to playing in the centre rather than out on the wing, this late comer to rugby went on to earn 70 caps for Ireland, usually inside Brian O’Driscoll. Somewhat unfairly referred to as a “Bosh Merchant”, Maggs went on to play for a collection of English clubs such as Bristol, Bath and Rotherham, along with a stint in Ulster between 2004 and 2007. Born in England, Maggs qualified for Ireland through his Limerick-born grandfather and proved to be an extremely useful member of the Irish panel, given Rob Henderson’s struggle with injuries. One of his most memorable Irish displays came against the French again in 2003 as Ireland were getting trounced 37-0 at the World Cup and he slipped through the back line from far out and carried two Frenchmen over the line to get our first points on the board. Finishing up with Ireland in 2005, Maggs is currently plying his trade as Player/Coach at RFU Championship team Molesley RFC.
Outside Centre: Brian O’Driscoll
Does anything else need to be said about this man? Rugby genius, incredible career, over 100 Irish caps, massive trophy cabinet, modern day philosopher – “‘Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.” The world media has run out of superlatives for BOD ever since he blitzed his way onto the front pages with that magnificent performance in Paris, so I won’t try and add anymore. Coaching? Ambassadorial role? Pundit? Turning water into wine? Who knows what’s in store for the great man when he retires later this year? He won’t be short of options.
Inside Centre: Rob Henderson
To this day Henderson is viewed as one of the men central to the success of Irish rugby through the noughties, but incredibly only earned 32 caps, along with a Lions tour in 2001. In a similar mould to Maggs, the Dover-born centre had the physical appearance of being built like a G4S van. Unfortunately he had the resilience of a Lada. Long term injuries constantly denied Irish rugby fans of seeing him link up with O’Driscoll in a centre combination that delivered a truly lethal running game which opposition defenders found impossible to track. Henderson was also a huge force in defence and you knew about it the next day if he’d caught you with a tackle running at full force. Starting with London Irish and then Wasps, Henderson experienced a series of highs and lows with Munster between 2001 and 2009. Finishing off with Toulon and then Esher back in England, Henderson flirted with media work and punditry before becoming a European Bond Broker at Tullett Prebon.
Wing: Denis Hickie
Aged 25 when taking on the French, Hickie offered a level of consistency out on the wing that stayed firm with him throughout his Ireland career. An absolute speedster for Ireland and Leinster, the St. Mary’s man cut his career quite short, retiring in his early thirties. Earning 62 caps for Ireland, the Dubliner won a big place in the hearts of Irish rugby fans, constantly finding himself speeding around opponents out wide and finishing of precise moves mastered by the men inside him. Also a music lover, Hickie presented a music show on 2fm in 2006 and even had a box named after him in The Olympia Theatre. Currently sitting on the committee of Ireland’s only IRFU backed sevens team, The Shamrock Warriors, he also works as a Development Manager for Mainstream Renewable Power Ltd in Canada.
Out Half: Ronan O’Gara
All the Irish eyes weren’t just on Brian O’Driscoll that day in the Stade de France but were also on the young 24 year old from Cork via Miami – Ronan O’Gara. Making up another combination that would feature heavily over the coming years with Ireland, Ronan O’Gara and Peter Stringer developed an extremely tight pairing that would lay up perfect platforms for the rest of the team to build upon. Like O’Driscoll, O’Gara will always be seen as one of the greats of Irish rugby but he had a much tougher task in establishing his dominance. Initially fighting it out for his place in the team with David Humphreys, O’Gara eventually grabbed hold of the number 10 jersey and held firm for the guts of a decade. The emergence of Jonny Sexton finally saw O’Gara relinquish his starting place in the Irish line up between 2009 and 2012, but not without a fight. As I’m sure he reminds Jonny of, coaching him at Racing Metro during the week and providing him with pearls of wisdom such as “Donnez ou… Rocket up his hole!”
Scrum Half: Peter Stringer
The 5’7’’ dynamo is one of only a very select few from the Irish 22 that took on France in 2000 and still plays at the highest level, currently with Bath in the Aviva Premiership. Aged 36, you’d imagine that this will be the Cork man’s last season but you wouldn’t put it past him to play on again as he has shown a huge level of grit and determination through the latter stages of his career. Having just made his Irish debut against Scotland in the Six Nations, Stringer didn’t look out of place at all in Paris and delivered his fast, focused performance that we grew used to watching with Munster and Ireland through the noughties. Not just nippy in attack, Stringer was also loved for his last ditch heroics and tap tackles and his miniscule presence was really missed as Ireland lined up at the 2011 World Cup without him. Pushed out of the Irish set up by a combination of Tomas O’Leary, Conor Murray, Isaac Boss and Eoin Redden, Stringer moved to the Aviva Premiership with Saracens and onwards to Newcastle and Bath, where he now finds himself. Cult heroes are often loved for a certain physical trait or eccentric personality, but very rarely their talent; this is not one such case.
Prop: Peter Clohessy
Another cult hero, but again, for all the right reasons, “The Claw” was one of the elder statesmen that took to the pitch against France, retiring two years later. One of the toughest men to ever don the green jersey, Clohessy was a no-nonsense front rower who let his brute force do the talking. Many have said that Clohessy’s retirement saw the end of the old school style of rugby that the professional era pushed out but this does a major disservice to a man who brought a strong level of technical know how to the game and could adapt to either side of the scrum. Primarily working as a publican, he owns both Clohessy’s Pub and The Sin Bin Night Club in Limerick and writes for The Irish Daily Express. In 2008 Clohessy saved a girls life after she swallowed her tongue following a fall from a horse.
Hooker: Keith Wood
Any accusations of the Irish front row being “Old School” can definitely not be leveled at Keith Wood. A true all-rounder, his throwing was solid, scrummaging consistent, dangerous in open play and also a great leader… let’s just not mention his drop goal attempts. When you see Hookers like Sean Cronin breaking lines, with ball in hand, you have to hark back to players like Keith Wood who brought a whole new element to the position. Totaling 58 caps for Ireland, the Munster man’s abilities and unique approach to hooking were recognised as he won the 2001 inaugural IRB Player of the Year. Since retiring in 2003, Wood has been a regular feature in the rugby world as a pundit for the BBC and writer for The Daily Telegraph.
Prop: John Hayes
Another Ireland regular who made his debut in the Six Nations in 2000, the quiet man of Irish rugby went on to earn a total of 105 caps and gain heroic status in his native Munster. Always shying away from the attentions of the media, the giant of a man was a scrumming machine and one of our most important players due to a massive shortage in front row talent. Indeed, it took 11 years to dislodge the loyal Munster servant from the Irish team and with that, the Bull went back to pasture on his family farm in Limerick. If you’re lucky, you might catch him doing a spot of coaching down at his beloved Bruff RFC… just don’t wear anything red.
Second Row: Mick Galwey
Another elder statesmen in 2000, Galwey had what can only be described as a roller coaster of a career whilst in the Irish set up. After winning an All-Ireland football medal with Kerry the big second row joined the ranks at Shannon and then Munster for the next 16 years. An ex-Muster captain, Big Mick is regarded as a legend in the red counties but when it came to international level Galwey found himself floundering in and out of the squad, earning just 41 caps over 11 years. Since retiring from the game in 2002, Galwey went on to become the very successful Head Coach at Shannon, leading them to two AIL Championships and two Munster Senior Cups. Now dabbling in public speaking, you can catch Gaillimh working the microphone in tents around The Aviva prior to the boys in green taking to the field.
Second Row: Malcolm O’Kelly
Big Mal marked his return to Leinster from London Irish in 2000, with a very solid performance throughout the Six Nations Championship, including a big one against the French. Similar to Galwey, the ex-Templeogue College man spent 11 years plying his trade with Ireland but earned more than double his caps – 92. A great servant of Leinster rugby, O’Kelly went on the have a glittering career winning a Grand Slam, Heineken Cup, three Magner’s Leagues and recieving five Lions caps. Since retiring from the game in 2010 O’Kelly has gone on to become the Forwards Coach at Malahide RFC, Ambassador for Plan Ireland, Orthopaedic Specialist at Tenko Surgical as well as sitting alongside Denis Hickie on the committee of Shamrock Warriors RFC.
Flanker: Simon Easterby
Currently the Head Coach of the troubled Welsh region Scarlets, Simon Easterby has put together one of the most respected coaching careers out of all the players who took to the field against France. Another starter who was born in England, Easterby went on to earn 65 caps for Ireland and was widely regarded as a formidable force around the field and mature head in the back row. His club career took him from Leeds Carnegie to Llanelli where he subsequently became a Scarlet and still finds himself there today. Indeed, perhaps Easterby’s career high came in a red jersey as he was called up to the Lions to replace an injured Lawrence Dallaglio and ended up forcing his way into the test team through a series of strong performances. In what has been a tumultuous few years for Welsh rugby, Easterby could find his biggest challenges lie off the pitch rather than putting it to the likes of Arnaud Costes, Abdelatif Benazzi and Thomas Lièvremont.
Flanker: Kieron Dawson
Not many Ulstermen played against the French but the 21-time capped back rower did a great job, consistently being the first to the breakdowns and being a nightmare for the opposition around the rucks. Playing for London Irish and Ulster, Dawson never scored a single point for Ireland, emphasising the focus that he put into his defensive work. Currently the Head Coach of Worthing RFC in the English National League One, it would appear that his players don’t share his love for hard defending, conceding an average of 30 points per game this season, the third worst record in the league.
Number 8: Anthony Foley
Axle finishes off the back row of players who moved into the world of coaching in taking up the role of Munster A Coach in 2009 and onwards to become their Forwards Coach in 2011. When Gert Smal had to temporarily stand down as Forwards Coach with Ireland for the 2012 Six Nations, due to an eye condition, Foley stepped up and took the reins. Now the Irish Wolfhounds’ Head Coach, it seems that Foley is one course to build a coaching career just as prestigious as his on-field one, which saw him take home 62 international caps.
Replacement Hooker: Frankie Sheahan
- Currently doing commentary and punditry for RTE and Sky Sports
- Capped 29 times for Ireland
- 183 appearances for Munster
Replacement Prop: Justin Fitzpatrick
- Currently is the Assistant Coach of the US national rugby team
- Capped 26 times for Ireland
- Spent his career at Ulster
Replacement Second Row: Paddy Johns
- Currently working as a Dental Surgeon
- Was capped 59 times for Ireland as a lock and in the back row
- Part of the Irish sevens team that played in the 1993 World Cup in Edinburgh
Replacement Back Row: Trevor Brennan
- Played primarily for Leinster and Toulouse throughout his career
- Capped 13 times
- Retired after attacking an Ulster fan and receiving a life-long ban from playing rugby, which was eventually reduced to 5 years
- Owns the De Danu bar in Toulouse
- Part of the coaching panel that worked with Ireland’s 2008 International Rules team
- Has written for a variety of publications
Replacement Scrum-half: Guy Easterby
- Followed his brother into management and is now the Team Manager at Leinster
- Earned 28 caps for Ireland, the majority of which were as a substitute
Replacement Out-Half: David Humphreys
- Currently playing the vital role of Operations Director at Ulster
- Capped 72 times for Ireland, scoring 560 points
- The older brother of London Irish outhalf Ian Humphreys
Replacement Back: Mike Mullins
- Currently undertaking his second stint as Head Coach at North Otago in his native New Zealand
- Played 16 times for Ireland and over 100 times for Munster