The Leeside legends series: Lionheart Lenihan roared for Munster and Ireland

The Leeside legends series: Lionheart Lenihan roared for Munster and Ireland
Donal Lenihan speaks to his Ireland team-mates. The northsider was one of the country's greatest ever rugby players.

FROM the playing fields of Brian Dillon’s as a youth, to becoming one of Ireland’s finest second-rows, what a story former rugby international player Donal Lenihan has.

He was born in 1959 and reared in the St Luke’s area of Cork and while attending St Patrick’s National School, he was an eager hurling and football player with the local Brian Dillon’s club.

Donal Lenihan playing for Ireland 1987. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Donal Lenihan playing for Ireland 1987. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Lenihan played with the Cork Primary schools football team that defeated Limerick in 1971 at the Cork Athletic Grounds. He later attended Christian Brothers College for his secondary school education and once there, was destined to take up rugby under the diligent coaching of Brother O’Reilly.

It did not take Donal long before he achieved his first major honour at Christians when he captained them to the 1974 Munster Junior Cup when they defeated Crescent College of Limerick.

Two years later Christians were on song again when they lifted the Munster Senior Cup and in the following season of 1977 he won his second Senior School’s Cup when they defeated arch rivals Presentation Brothers College.

When Lenihan finished his education he moved to UCC where he helped them win the Munster Senior Cup in 1981 the last time the students has won this trophy.

Lenihan’s rugby education continued at the famous Cork Constitution club after he completed his studies in UCC.

He was simply an awesome addition to the Temple Hill club and he added the 1983, 1985 and 1989 Munster Cup titles with a number of league titles also in the bag for all conquering Cork club.

Cork Constitution achieved possibly their greatest feat in 1991 when they won the inaugural All Ireland league.

Donal Lenihan wins a lineout against Shannon in 1988 at Thomond Park.
Donal Lenihan wins a lineout against Shannon in 1988 at Thomond Park.

“At club level that win was the best that we achieved at Con but we had a good panel of players at the time,” said Donal.

It was just as successful for Donal on the Senior International scene when he made his debut against Australia in 1981.

Donal Lenihan competes for a lineout ball in the Munster against Australia match at Musgrave Park in 1981.
Donal Lenihan competes for a lineout ball in the Munster against Australia match at Musgrave Park in 1981.

A year later, Ireland created history when they won the Triple Crown and championship helped by the brilliance of Lenihan under the captaincy of Ciaran Fitzgerald.

Three years later the same feat was achieved when Ireland shocked the home nations with Lenihan once again playing a major role in their success.

The fact Ireland didn’t win a Triple Crown or championship since 1949 brought a huge buzz to the rugby fraternity.

“Looking back I must say the 1982 season was brilliant as I was proud to have helped Ireland win their first Triple Crown in 33 years.”

Donal’s talent was soon spotted by the Lions selectors and he was selected on the 1983 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

The 1986 Lions tour of South Africa was cancelled due to apartheid policies of the South African Government.

Donal had to wait until 1989 for his next outing with the Lions squad as he made the final cut that toured Australia.

“I would say the best thing that can happen you when you are playing rugby is to play Senior rugby for your country.

“When you are selected on the Lions team it’s the ultimate honour in the game and I was proud and fortunate to have gained both honours.”

Donal retired from international rugby in 1992 after the game against Wales in which he earned his 52nd cap and after playing for Munster between 1980-1990, the present set up is a little different.

“There was no Heineken Cup in my time and all we really played was inter-pros but the present standard in the European Cup is immense that has probably diminished the club scene in this country.”

Looking back on the career of Lenihan it was simply polished both one off the pitch from captaining Ireland to playing with the Lions and to round it off getting to manage the Lions in 2001.

A wonderful knowledgeable man that is widely admired and a credit to this city that easily put him in the ‘Leeside Legend’ category.

Cork icons Dr Con Murphy and Donal Lenihan at Liam Miller tribute match. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork icons Dr Con Murphy and Donal Lenihan at Liam Miller tribute match. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

FACTFILE:

Donal Lenihan played hurling and football with Brian Dillon’s during his schooldays at St Patrick’s National School.

He won a total of 52 caps at senior level for Ireland between 1981 and 1992.

Donal played for Cork at Gaelic football when he was selected for the Cork primary schools team in 1971.

Lenihan was part of the British and Irish Lions’ 1983 tour of New Zealand, but with the 1986 tour to South Africa cancelled, he still made the 1989 squad that toured Australia.

He was manager of the Lions team that toured Australia in 2001.

Lenihan is a regular rugby correspondent with the Irish Examiner and is also an RTÉ pundit.

In 2015, Donal Lenihan received the Hall of Fame award at the Mayfield Community Volunteer Awards.

More in this section

Sponsored Content