It wasn’t always like this, where Corinthians provide a conveyor belt of Irish internationals to a variety of Irish teams. The walls of this clubhouse downstairs and upstairs are filled with wonderful memorabilia of times past including the honouring of probably all Corinthian internationals. Some complaint when one is not sure!
While the club was founded in 1932, the 1932/33 season, it was forty years and more before the different categories of internationals were started. Since then we have Schools, Youths, Universities, Students, Under 18s, Under 21s, Under 25s, Women, we used have Under 19s but did they change that to Junior, we had B internationals and we changed them to A internationals. Hard to keep track sometimes.
When I was a young fella growing up in Galway, Corinthians took a back seat when it came to international honours and the wearing of the green jersey. We lived the pleasure of Tony O’Sullivan, Johnny Dooley, Dickie Roche and Brendan Guerin playing at the highest level. But they all belonged to the other Galway club, what Jim Lydon (fine journalist and President of this club 1963-66 and 1972-74) might have called the other of the Big Two.
I had heard of Jimmy Joyce (not to be confused with the Jimmy Joyce Room down stairs) from that other club who was capped in a war time international but I had not heard of Jack Griffin , (no not the larger than life Army Officer Jack Griffin Corinthian President of 1975/76), but a member of Corinthians who was capped in that same war time match. Both Jack Griffin and Jimmy Joyce played for an Irish XV against the British Army at Ravenhill in 1943. It was the only international for Ireland in that war year. Joyce played in the second row and Griffin at tight head prop. 1943, at the end of a successful career, was a good year for Jack Griffin, by playing for Corinthians, Connacht and Ireland. Jimmy Joyce, an Oughterard man, is and was always well documented up there on the walls of the Dublin Road clubhouse but Jack Griffin, a Cork man, is not and never was documented here in this fine clubhouse of Corinthians. What a shame! Wonder why?
When the first four mentioned above were being celebrated we lamented the fact that this club’s favourite son Don Armstrong never did get a cap, after all he was the complete player, the complete scrum-half. Whatever out-half he played with in what were known as Final Trials were invariably capped but Don never got the nod and we never got over it! Sure he was selected as an Irish travelling reserve which was more than Cormac Greally, another deserving Corinthian legend, ever got!
Pity Steve Cunningham didn’t stay at home when he got the degree from College, he could have played for Ireland. Was he not every bit as good as Ken Armstrong (2 caps) or Ken Houston (6 caps). Now there’s a thing, remind me to tell you about Aidan White. Steve Cunningham did play for Zambia and he is remembered on the Wall of Fame. Jim Berry (big brother of recent Corinthian President Mike Berry) played for Liberia and captained Brazil against the Pumas of Argentina in his day but he’s not on the Corinthian Wall of Fame. Why so?
Tommy Conneely, twice (and in succession) a winning Connacht Senior Cup captain (1993 and 1994) with this club was the first in 1979 to have an Irish jersey inserted in a frame and affixed to the Wall for all to see. Well that’s not really true. We waited until this fine edifice in the town land of Cloonacauneen was opened in 1983, in the presidency of Brendan Cassidy, to commemorate all these fine achievements. Tommy played in a Schools Quadrangular 7 a side tournament in Twickenham between Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. He was the only Connacht player in the team. It must have been a huge honour for the young Bish lad. It was, it was unprecedented.
We remember well the Six Nations, sorry I mean the Five Nations game between Wales and Ireland in Cardiff in 1969 when the Welsh man Brian Price flattened the Irish wing forward (they’re called flankers today) Noel Murphy with a well executed uppercut. The great noisy was concussed and another Corinthian Great Padraig Cassidy was instructed to tighten the laces of his boots as he sat on the Irish Bench. We held our breath and waited to breathe a sigh of relief for Cass to get the cap he so richly deserved. ‘Yerra lads I’ll play on’ said the concussed Corkman and another heart-breaking chapter was written. It was Murphy’s last game for Ireland. It could also have been Padraig Cassidy’s first game for Ireland.
And then there was the game against Scotland in 1993. Irish full-back Jim Staples was injured. Ciaran Clarke was coming good and so was Conor O’Shea but neither were ready. Chances like these were few and far between. Ireland A, Ireland U21 and Ireland Schools international, Connacht and Corinthian stalwart Aidan White would surely get his just dues and at least one cap, maybe more. He was flying, playing well, could kick them from anywhere, astute reader of the game, and he was ready. Whitey had a great presence, a competence, an authority on the rugby pitch. But the Irish selectors never really had any great empathy for Connacht players and they gave Colin Wilkinson from Ulster his only cap! But that was one more that Whitey. In a different mindset Whitey could have had as many Ireland goalkeeping caps as Shay Given. Life’s strange.
Jonny O’Connor was honoured by the Ireland selectors so often at under age and A level that it was inevitable that he would play at the highest level. He did. He played twelve times but if he did he was playing with London Wasps at the time!
But then came Noel Mannion who won 16 caps at No.8., one more than Sully thirty years earlier. In the Winter of 1988 the Big Man from Ballinasloe was capped against Western Samoa and Italy while a member of this club. Surprisingly there was no great pride or excitement evident in the club at his success. A wise older member of the club, now gone to his eternal reward, drowled we’ll wait to see if he gets a proper cap! Well he did. He played against France, Wales, England and Scotland in the New Year! And we all remember his try against Wales in Cardiff Arms Park, an outstanding try that was featured in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. His international career ended with a trip to Namibia in 1991, a World Cup outing against Japan and two more tries and a final appearance in 1993.
Corinthians had arrived, many more internationals at every level would follow.
The Wall of Fame celebrates the achievements of Aidan White, Noel Mannion, Padraig Cassidy, Steve Cunningham, Barry Turley, Jimmy Tonery, Tommy Conneely, Charlie Hosty, Richard Hartmann, Dave Lillis, Nigel Carolan, Dave Moran, Jonny O’Connor, Alan Maher and more recently Arron Conneely, Eoin Griffin, James Robinson, Mark Dolan and Dennis Buckley. And what about Toni Brennan, Carmel Murphy, Mary O’Loughlin, Rochelle Howell and Celine Quinn. Different times. Did we miss Karl Egan he’s not on the Wall of Fame either.
We applaud those who captained Ireland teams either as members of Corinthians or who had moved on, James Robinson, Frankie Leonard and Alan Maher come to mind.
With the structures that are in place from the painted faces on the back windscreens of cars that read ‘Young Corinthian on Board’ to the appointment of new coach world renown Phil Pretorius at this IRFU Club of Excellence, one can be confident that many more international players will follow.