The Leeside legends series: Tom Kieran excelled as a rugby full-back and coach

The Leeside legends series: Tom Kieran excelled as a rugby full-back and coach
Willie John McBride, followed by Tom Kiernan of Ireland enters the field ahead of the game between Ireland and England at Lansdowne Road in 1973. Picture: Connolly Collection/SPORTSFILE

THE Cork Constitution club had many outstanding players, but in Tom Kiernan, they produced one of the best full- backs ever to grace the Irish rugby scene.

Kiernan was born in 1939 and educated at Presentation Brothers College, where he won Munster Junior Cup and Senior Cup medals. It was evident from his schooldays there was a star in the making.

Tom won further honours when he went to college, helping UCC win three Munster Senior League titles, but when he joined Cork Constitution, he won an incredible 10 Munster Senior League medals.

At the famous Cork Con club, the older members still speak very highly about the contribution that Kiernan made to their great club.

Irish international rugby team. Included are Noel Murphy, back row, fourth from left and Tom Kiernan, at front on right. 
Irish international rugby team. Included are Noel Murphy, back row, fourth from left and Tom Kiernan, at front on right. 

An old friend of Tom’s, well known in rugby circles, Noel Murphy (Snr), recalled Tom’s first ever experience in rugby.

“In 1944, the first schoolboy team in Ireland were the Conette teams, and two of their sides were the Robins and the Magpies, with the latter captained by Teddy Crosbie and the Robins by myself,” said Noel.

“It is incredible to think 76 years ago, the mascot on the day was no other than Tom Kiernan and he was led out by international referee Dickie McGrath.

“Tom was to kick the ball to start the game but as he went to kick it, he completely missed it.”

That was the last time he made that mistake as kicking became one of the Cork Con’s man forte as he was a cool-headed tactician.

Kiernan was the prototype for the attacking full back as he was also a gifted place kicker.

That fateful day started Tom off on a rugby career that would eventually take him all over the world.

Tom played many tremendous games for his country and so impressed the Lions selectors that he was chosen for the 1962 tour of South Africa. Six years later, he was given the honour to captain the Lions tour again to South Africa.

Irish international rugby team. Included are Noel Murphy, back row, fourth from left and Tom Kiernan, at front on right. 
Irish international rugby team. Included are Noel Murphy, back row, fourth from left and Tom Kiernan, at front on right. 

Off the field, Tom had an incredible record as he coached the Munster team of 1978 that defeated the New Zealand All Blacks at Thomond Park.

In the hysteria generated by 10,000 fanatical supporters, Munster produced the shock of the century in rugby union circles.

Moss Finn, the former Cork Con winger, played on that famous day and he had first-hand knowledge of the coaching attributes of Tom Kieran. “Tom was a superb coach who knew the game inside out and he gained a lot of support from the players who respected his man-management style.”

Four years later, he was hero once again when Ireland won the Triple Crown having benefited again from Tom’s coaching skills.

Tom Kiernan was a talented player who also used his rugby nous to help Munster and Ireland as a coach. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Tom Kiernan was a talented player who also used his rugby nous to help Munster and Ireland as a coach. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

At administration level, Tom became the youngest person ever to be president of the Munster Branch in 1977/78 at the age of 38.

Cork Con the club that Tom served so well bestowed him the honour of making him centenary president during the 1991/92 season.

Kiernan joined the Irish Rugby Football Union in 1983 and retired from the position in 2001 that brought to an end a career that nearly spanned four decades.

Such was the esteem he was held in the Cork Constitution club held a dinner to mark his retirement from the IRFU.

Ronnie Dawson, a member of the IRFU who was an international team-mate of Kiernan and toured on the same Lions team, paid tribute to the great man.

Dawson stressed that a huge void had been left by the departure of Tom and indicated that World Rugby would sadly miss him.

The Champions Cup is now one of the biggest championships on the rugby calendar and Tom played a huge part in setting up this major coup for all clubs in Europe.

Kieran wanted to do something about the huge number of Irish players leaving their clubs to play abroad and was instrumental in getting provincial teams to reward their players financially.

Tom Kiernan certainly was a man of vision both on and off the field of rugby and the Cork rugby sporting public will always appreciate and salute his huge contribution to the sport.

Fergus Slattery, left, and Tom Kiernan, Ireland rugby. Picture credit: SPORTSFILE
Fergus Slattery, left, and Tom Kiernan, Ireland rugby. Picture credit: SPORTSFILE

FACTFILE:

Tom Kiernan won a total of 13 Munster Senior league medals, 10 with Cork Constitution and three with UCC.

He toured South Africa with the Lions in 1962 and in 1968 he captained the Lions when they toured South Africa again.

Tom was the coach of the Munster team that defeated the All Blacks in 1978 in front of 10,000 hysterical fans at Thomond Park.

Tom Kiernan retired from the IRFU in 2001 after an illustrious career in rugby that spanned more than four decades.

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