The past week has seen the retirement of 2 of our favourite players – Jerry Flannery and Bob Casey. Both were characters whose careers spanned eras of huge change and development in Irish rugby.
Let’s start with Jirry, a man who, by all accounts, was the life and soul of every party. One of Egg’s funniest memories was the queue outside Flannery’s of Camden Street after that HEC semi-final in 2006. You see, Paul O’Connell had said on TV afterwards that the lads were going to Flannery’s after… Jerry Flannery’s… in Limerick. No wonder the punters were disappointed, although his X Factor audition a few weeks later more than made up for it.
At this stage, Fla was in his first season at the top, having just replaced TV’s favourite client-praiser, Frankie, as Munster starting hooker, and was a relatively unknown quantity. Shortly over 3 years later, he was a hero of two HECs, a Grand Slam, and a certain Lion. Yet a freak injury before the tour left for Seth Efrica ruled him out of that tour, and a series of abortive comebacks later, contributed to ending his career.
In an era of durable, long-lived and iconic hookers like John Smit, Williams Servat and Thommo (who Jirry memorably called a fat ****), Flannery burned brightly for just four seasons. But what seasons they were – Flannery’s hair, superman pose, quality and controlled aggression perfectly captured the era in Munster and Irish rugby, and he will be missed. He was something of a wild man, but could seemingly switch from loo-la to dead-eyed technician as soon as the next lineout rolled along – and make no mistake, his lineout throwing was peerless. It is in keeping with his character that he didn’t want to be seen as a cripple turning up to training to do another day of rehab, instead quitting with his head held high. Interesting way to go out too, replete with a thinly veiled dig at Mick Galwey. He can have no regrets, though in the interests of mirth, we should direct you here for one of his less proud moments.
He was part of a proud Irish hooking tradition, following on from Ciaran Fitzgerald, Terry Kingston, Woody and Shane Byrne and passing the baton on to Rory Best. It’s a position where Ireland have been notably blessed, but Jirry was one of the greats.
As for Biiiiiiiiiig Bob Casey, he never quite seemed to make the grade at the highest level. Back at the 1999 World Cup, amazingly from this distance, Bob and Drico were the two bright young things in Gatty’s squad (Dorce having just missed out). Drico managed to put the tournament behind him, but Bob never got much of a look-in after Lens.
When you consider that his competition during the last decade and a bit consisted of Mal O’Kelly, Gallaimh, Jeremy Davidson, Paul O’Connell, Stakhanov and Gary Longwell, it’s probably not surprising he never played much, but he was unfortunate to play in an era when being an Exile was not a good thing for your international career. Eddie never capped him, and Deccie only picked him in the Churchill Cup. To be fair, he didn’t have the mobility required of a modern lock, even if he was somewhat of a cause celebre for Hooky for a while in the middle of the noughties.
What he did offer was excellent lineout work and leadership skills – with Nick Kennedy, he led the best defensive lineout in the Premiership and captained London Irish in their most successful era. He was a link back to the history and culture of the club as the on-pitch product became increasingly Samoan. Perhaps Tomás O’Leary can become his spiritual successor at Irish – his presence and class will be sorely missed, not only by our polls, but by rugby fans everywhere. Let’s hope he goes into broadcasting – he has dabbled in the Irish Times and on Sky – for no other reason than the hilarious child’s table Sky put him at.
We wish them the best.