Interview with Gary Halpin (ex-LI Captain and legend)

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Interview with Gary Halpin (ex-LI Captain and legend)

by PaulHP on Fri Jun 02, 2006 11:17 pm

Garrett Francis (Gary) Halpin

Clubs: Wanderers, London Irish, Blackrock Collage, Leinster, Barbarians, Ireland and Brighton.

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Gary Halpin, ex London Irish Captain and legend. Everyone remembers or has heard about the announcement made during a match to move his car as it was blocking an ambulance entering Sunbury. Those who use to watch Irish in the Sunbury days will remember him wondering around in his club blazer, shirt and tie whilst wearing shirts. Others will remember him for scoring a try against the All Blacks during the 1995 World Cup. Our American cousins will know him for being a 4 times All-American hammer thrower (he still holds the school record in the hammer throw (230’5”) and 35 lb).

He is now a housemaster and teacher of Business Studies and Geography and his involvement in extra-curricular activities range from the Young Enterprise to Rugby and Rowing at the Oratory School. He took some time to answer my questions:


What is your date of birth of birth? 14/02/66

When/where did you start to play rugby? Kilkenny rugby club aged 5 and then in Rockwell College, Tipp aged 12

Have you always played Prop? No but i've never been out of the front row....hooker

When did join London Irish and how many games did you play? I joined LI in 1991 and left in 1999 I could not be sure how many games I played but several hundred.

How many points did you score in your London Irish days? No idea

What brought you to London Irish? No job in ireland. I was going nowhere. Rob saunders approached me a an irish squad session and put me in contact with Hugh Carlin. Hugh did so much for me in helping me to make roots in London. I will never be able to thank him enough.

Who was/were the coach(es)? George Hook, Hikka Reid, Clive Woodward, Willie Anderson, Dick Best.

What was the training like? I enjoyed training.

Who was your most difficult opponent? Alan Sharpe of Bristol. We had many a good ding dong

What was Sunbury like in your time playing there? Awesome. I really loved playing there. It was not just a rugby club, it was a home from home. A meeting place for Irish people in London.

What was your favourite away ground? Orrell, the Lanc's lads were very like us paddies, we had great after match with characters like Sammy Southern and Dave Cleary and Dewi Morris.

Who do you consider was the best player you played with for London Irish? Matafa'a Keenan a second row of real quality. He was inspirational, huge big tackles and great on the ball.

Who where the characters at London Irish in your time playing? Aidan Higgins stands out a larger than life chap, Kieran Bird was another and of course Ken the Legend O’Connell

Do you still keep in contact with any of your old team mates? I do with Ken and Gabriel Fulcher

What was your most memorable game? I think beating Quins 60-12 at Sunbury was a great day.

You were with the club at the start of professionalism, how did this affect you? It was tough a first but we did learn quickly. The change from work to rugby did take time. We had to change we were not fit enough at the start but this was to be expected. In the amateur days at LI it was all about fun but money changed everything.

Where you tempted to return to Ireland to play at this time? Not really although I did finish my career at Leinster. LI as all clubs became very different places with professionalism

The professional London Irish team is no longer a team for Irish/Irish descent players, what are your feelings about this? I do not have any negative feelings in this regard. London Irish unites Anglo Irish people and gives them a sense of pride. In this respect nothing has changed. London Irish has a long tradition of inviting foreign players to play for the club.

Do you miss playing for London Irish? Yes I do. It was without doubt the best years of my life both in rugby and personal family terms. Carol (my wife) and I loved the club our kids grew up there.

You played under a number of coaches at Irish, who was the hardest task master? Dick Best stands alone in this regard. He inherited a mess and ultimately turned the club into one of the forces in the English game. Hikka Reid was another hard nut.

Do you have a favourite story from your playing days? Yes when we were away to Leicester in the cup. It was about 1992/93. Aidan Higgins who was a very big chap at 147kgs was playing in the second row. His no 5 shirt would not fit him so he wore the no 21 sub props shirt. As we ran on to the field the Leicester announcer said "ladies and gentlemen today the LI second rower A. Higgins will wear the number 21 shirt as he can not fit into the no 5shirt,” It seemed like all 12000 at Welford laughed at the same time.

You joined Harlequins after being released (were you released or did you leave?) by Irish, how different was Quin's to Irish? I loved playing at Quins. They were very different to what I expected very family orientated club. I was out of contract with LI and needed a change, all my mates had moved on and the club needed new blood.

What went through your head when you heard your car registration being read out over the tannoy during the cup game against Leicester, asking for it to be moved to allow the ambulance in? The fact that I heard the number being called out tells me that I should have been concentrating a little better

Did you go on any overseas tours with London Irish? Yes I went to Canada with the club in 1994 I think . That was one hell of a trip.

You were playing for London Irish during the Club/Province/Country problems, where the club fell out with the IRFU. How did this affect you as a player? It did not cost me a thought to be honest. Irish international rugby was a mess at that time. I preferred playing for LI. The feudal in-fighting was a big turn off. Playing in England meant it would be very difficult to represent Ireland at this point, but it did not effect me as I had no international ambition after the 95 world cup.

How difficult was it for London Irish to put out a XV on Inter-provincial weekends? It was difficult but we got by. The club suffered during this time. We lost contracted players on several weekends this had a big influence on us nearly being relegated in 96. It was also part of the reason why our most inspirational coach of the era Clive Woodward, left us.

Did you ever play Inter-provincial rugby one day and for LI the next? No

You played for Ireland on a number of occasions, how did it feel to pull on the shirt for the first time? It was a dream come true.

What are your memories of playing for Ireland? I don’t have many memories of playing as with only 11 caps it is difficult to remember. I remember the friendships more than the games and this to be honest is more important.

What was it like to score a try against New Zealand (can you talk us through it?)? Scoring the try was great. It was a planned move. The Kiwi's expected Nick Popplewell to receive the pass as he was a big ball carrier at that time, I got the pass and trundled over.
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Did playing for London Irish affect your International career? Not really, I suppose it only effected me on close calls. With the exception of 6 caps I lost out to another player, I felt the selectors got it right most of the time

Did you go on any overseas tours with Ireland? If so to where? 89 USA and Canada, 91 Namibia, 92 New Zealand, 94 Australia, 95 World Cup South Africa, 96 New Zealand

Who was your hardest international opponent and why? Louis Armory the French prop, tough as nails

What was your favourite away ground? Ellis Park

Will you miss the current Lansdowne Road when it's demolished? No.

Did you win any other honours (inter-provincial/county/Barbarians etc.)? Babas

When did you stop playing rugby? At Leinster in 2001

You played AIL rugby for Blackrock how different was this, to playing in the English First Division? Very different, poor standard etc....

How good was the Leinster side you played in at this time? Leinster were very good at this time. I loved playing for Leinster.

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Athletics Records:
http://www.iaaf.org/athletes/athlete=13 ... PopUp.html
http://www.gbrathletics.com/nc/ncaai.htm
http://homepage.eircom.net/~irishthrowe ... cords.html

Ireland records:
http://statistics.scrum.com/rugby_stats_05.asp?ID=IHA22
http://www.sporting-heroes.net/rugby-he ... HeroID=780
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by Mrs Chicken on Sat Jun 03, 2006 12:31 am

Gary was great. I remember him signing a container of chips one time in the pouring rain at Sunbury because there was no programme to hand to put his pawprint on.

And I still recall the try against the kiwis in the WC with joy and delight even now!

Fabbo interview as ever, Paul.
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by OxonRob on Sat Jun 03, 2006 5:28 am

Brilliant. He was a nice man then and he hasn't changed a bit.
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by Loobs on Sun Jun 04, 2006 7:51 am

Cheers, Paul. These interviews are immensely enjoyable for us newbies.
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by AlecW on Mon Jun 05, 2006 7:07 am

Excellent interview, Paul...!

Hope to see Gary more often at the MadStad!
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by PGT on Mon Jun 05, 2006 8:06 am

A more recent memory of Gary, but nevertheless worth recounting, was at a dinner when Gary was the after dinner speaker. About 5 minutes into his patter a scuffle broke out and various people stepped in to stop this developing. Gary in his inimitable style paused in mid speech/story and said

"I'll have a fiver on the guy with the red tie"

before carrying on with the rest of his tale. The two combatants and the rest of the guests fell about laughing and that was the end of that!
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by Christine on Mon Jun 05, 2006 1:52 pm

Top bloke. He "lost" one of his Ireland jackets when playing for the Baa Baas in Stirling - we had a few jars with him that night at Bridgehaugh following the game. Happy memories.
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