The Leeside Legends series: Barry McGann was a Cork rugby great

The Leeside Legends series: Barry McGann was a Cork rugby great

Barry McGann scores a conversion from a Tom Grace try against England in 1973.

ALTHOUGH Barry McGann won 25 caps playing rugby for Ireland between 1969 and 1976, he came from a varied background in a sporting sense.

His brothers Sean and Diarmuid played Gaelic football for Cork as McGann’s were sons of Galway man and whose mother came from Tipperary.

McGann was born on Leeside and grew up in a household whose love for sport was a major priority in their everyday lives.

Barry played most sports including golf, cricket, soccer, Gaelic football, and hurling.

Growing up in the Mardyke area of Cork that produced many young stars including the Irish soccer international Noel Cantwell and rugby star Tom Kiernan.

After playing soccer with Young Elms McGann was spotted by the Dublin scouts and he later went to play soccer with Shelbourne that included players like Ben Hannigan and Eric Barber.

As a member of the Young Elms soccer team, McGann helped them to U15 and U18 national titles.

McGann also earned caps with the Irish Youths team and was the only Cork player that was selected on a side that included Mick Leach and Terry Conroy as Ireland finished sixth of the 24 competing nations.

The highlight for Barry was when Ireland defeated Holland in the championship as the Dutch had no other than the legendary Johann Cruyff in their side.

McGann had a somewhat rotund figure that brought a lot of quips from both media and fellow players alike.

One famous quote from Tony O’Reilly brought huge laughter in Irish rugby circles — “Twice around Barry McGann and you qualify as a bona fide traveler.”

McGann began his rugby education at Presentation Brothers College at the age of 12 and in 1966 he captained his school to win the Munster Schools Senior Cup.

After finishing school Barry went straight to Cork Constitution and on his first day at the club, he was approached by Noel Murphy who remarked to him. — “You just play ball and we will look after you.”

Barry certainly took Noel at his word and three years later he made his international debut.

It all came to fruition when Mike Gibson picked up an injury who was the number one out-half and with McGann coming in as replacement he grabbed the opportunity with both hands and feet.

McGann played brilliantly against France dropping a goal in their 17-9 win which was their first win against this opposition in 11 years.

When the multi-talented Gibson returned, he had to be content with a place in the centre as McGann held his place at out-half.

England were next to be dispatched as the Irish team defeated them 17-15 in Dublin.

The following game against Scotland was a memorable one for Barry as he scored his first international try as the men in green ran out 16-0 winners.

The Triple Crown was now on the cards and the Cardiff Arms Park showdown is best remembered for the most controversial punch in the history of international rugby.

Noel Murphy was floored by the Welsh forward Ryan Price that was witnessed by Prince Charles who was attending his first match in his role. Price remained on the park as at that time it was not known ever to send off players.

McGann’s form dipped in 1974 and it prevented him from participating in any of Ireland’s games during the championship.

Barry finished his international playing days in 1976 against New Zealand and it brought to an end a career that saw the Cork Con player amass a total of 72 test points which included that memorable try against Scotland.

Barry had great memories of his rugby career and he recalled one towards the end of his career.

“I was a sub for Mick Quinn at the time and Syd Millar was the coach at the time and my reputation of being a very laid-back player came to the fore again.

“Because of work I was late for training and I approached Syd knowing he didn’t believe me and asked him what could I do?

“He duly asked me to warm up.”

“Instinctively I rubbed my hands and said okay I am ready.”

“Moss Keane was in stitches, but I will never forget the look on Syd Millar’s face, and I think in reality that incident cost me about 10 caps.”

Barry McGann was a warm and genial man and will be remembered as a truly outstanding sportsman.

Barry McGann clears the ball in a 1970 test against SouthAfrica at Lansdowne Road.
Barry McGann clears the ball in a 1970 test against SouthAfrica at Lansdowne Road.

FACTFILE: 

Barry McGann won a total of 27 Irish Senior rugby caps between 1969 to 1976.

He was educated at Presentation Brothers College where he captained his school in 1966 to the Munster Schools Senior Cup.

He won an International youth soccer cap and later played with Shelbourne in Dublin.

McGann was a sub on the Munster team that defeated the All-Blacks at Thomond Park in 1978.

He played with the Irish Youths team that defeated Holland side that included the legendary Johann Cruyff.

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