Interview with Roger McKibbin 1980 Cup Final Winger

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Interview with Roger McKibbin 1980 Cup Final Winger

by PaulHP on Fri Oct 13, 2006 7:22 pm

Roger McKibbin, is a member of Ulster’s most famous Rugby family. Both his Father Harry and Brother Harry Jnr. have been President of Ulster R.F.U. (and President of the I.R.F.U. in his Father's case) and his nephew is currently playing for Ulster. In 1980, he was playing on the wing along side his brother Alastair at centre for London Irish against Leicester in the Cup Final. He kindly answered my questions:


What is your date of birth/place of birth? 06/11/1949 in Belfast

When/where did you start to play rugby? At Royal Belfast Academical Institution in 1960 - Non-tackling fly-half for U13 B team

Have you always played on the wing? No, I've played everywhere in the back-line apart from scrum-half. My preferred position was left centre (playing alongside my brother Alistair)

When did join London Irish and how many games did you play? Joined in 1976, I think, and played until 1982. No idea how many games I played

How many points did you score in your London Irish days? Not enough!

What brought you to London Irish? Probably to 'escape' N. Ireland. As I was in teaching, I bought the Times Educational Supplement one day and looked for jobs within a 10 mile radius of Sunbury. I was called for interview at Teddington School where the Head of Department played for Harlequins...It was not a difficult interview!

Who was the coach? Ken Kennedy back in 1976. Pat Parfrey became the coach after that and was inspirational as well as technically very good

How was the team picked? I understand that Ken allowed several others to join him on his selection committee but I think he picked the team himself. It would have been out of character for Ken to do anything else

Who was the Captain? Ken Kennedy, master of all he surveyed back in 76

What was the training like? We trained on Thursdays at Sunbury - this was taken by Ken, of course and it was quite tough. A small number of us also trained at the Duke of York's barracks in Chelsea on Tuesday evenings, these sessions were taken by John Hunter who had a well-honed sadistic streak

Who was your most difficult opponent? I think that the whole of the Leicester Team in the 1980 Cup Final were our most difficult opponents

What was Sunbury like in your time playing there? Wonderful, especially the upper bar on a Saturday afternoon after the match. What was really great was that everyone came back to Sunbury and the craic was brilliant as all human life was there from the 1st XV down to the B2's etc.

What was your favourite away ground? Gloucester - but only if we won, which we did very often there. My recollection is that they were all absolutely huge and I regularly played against a mid-field that I felt would not have been out of place in the second row

Who do you consider was the best player you played with for London Irish? The whole 1980 side were amazing but my vote for the best forward has to be John O'Driscoll - a true goliath of a man - and the best back was my brother Alastair

Who where the characters at London Irish in your time playing? John Casalaspro was in a class of his own in the 1st team. The whole 1980 team had a great camaraderie but I suppose my closest friends were Kevin Short and Guy Beringer. I had great respect for Michael O'Connor, our Club President who was a wonderful support to all of us, especially in the bar after matches. Paddy Forsythe also played a very major role for many of us

Do you still keep in contact with any of your old team mates? Yes. A couple of years ago we had a great reunion of the 1980 team and it was fantastic to have virtually a full house. Sadly, I suppose, rugby doesn't mean quite as much to me as it used to but I still see Guy Beringer and, I am very pleased to say, my brother Alastair


You played in the 1980 Cup Final, what are your memories of that day? A superb try for London Irish (sadly not by me!). Stopping Leicester from scoring any tries. All their points came from penalties by Dusty Hare and drop-goals by Les Cusworth, both English Internationals

How good was the London Irish side you played in?(or) Which season had the strongest team? The 1980 side was undoubtedly the best side. We went through the entire Cup campaign (then called the John Player Cup) without a try being scored against us. Is this a record for this competition?

The professional London Irish team is no longer a team for Irish/ Irish descent players, what are your feelings about this? It's inevitable but I do find it a bit strange that a London Irish team no longer plays in London and has so few Irish players on it. But I suppose that's very Irish!

Do you miss playing for London Irish? Yes, hugely but even 25 years ago my body was starting to crack-up and today I know my limitations - mostly, and so I'd be more up for darts or croquet than rugby

Do you have a favourite story from your playing days? My mother was - and is - a fairly ferocious woman and I recall one day when I was playing for Instonians against Civil Service, that I was caught at the bottom of a ruck and one of the Civil Service players who shall be nameless (but the clue is that he was Stewart McKinney's brother!) started to rake his studs over the top of my head - I'm sure it was a complete accident of course. Unfortunately for him, this indiscretion took place just about 10 yards from the touch-line where my mother was standing. She immediately marched onto the field wielding her golf umbrella and started to beat the unfortunate perpetrator, screaming at him, "Don't you dare do that to my Roger!". It was all rather embarrasing for everyone but I think she made her point very well and I could only agree with her

Did you go on any overseas tours with London Irish? To Nigeria and also, I suppose Dublin counts as overseas? We never performed terribly well in Dublin, unless we played on the Friday night. Sadly we often seemed to have to play Clontarf on the Sunday afternoon (for this I blame Noel Traynor) and we were usually at a serious diasadvantage due to the rather riotous goings on the Saturday evening of a Rugby International in Dublin

How difficult was it for London Irish to put out a XV on Inter-provincial weekends? No problem. We had real strength and depth

Did you ever play for an Irish Province(if so which one?) Only at age-group level. For Ulster Schools, and Leinster U19's and U21's. John O'Driscoll did ask me to play for Connaught at one time but stupidly I was holding out for my native Ulster but, they never asked me!

When did you stop playing? I had to retire from playing serious rugby in 1982, having missed most of the previous season through injury. Actually, I haven't officially retired yet, although the last time I was on the field was on a Friday night in Paris before a Rugby International about 5 years ago. Thankfully it was very sedate

Do you still have your Honours tie? Yes I do, but it's not exactly the key fashion item in my wardrobe, but I intend to wear it at the next reunion of the 1980 Cup Team. With regard to this I would be grateful if Duncan Leopold will let us all know the year and venue of our next get-together

Do you still have your 1980 Cup Final tracksuit? No, but I have my boots!

Did you play for any other clubs? I played for Instonians, Trinity College Dublin, Loughborough College and University of Cape Town

You played in a Ireland Trial match what was it like? As usual the Possibles (for whom I was playing) smashed the Probables. I think it was 16-0 and the year was 1972 or there-abouts. I remember scoring a try on the day

How different was the set-up at Instonians to London Irish? Instonians was an Old Boys' Club in those days and London Irish was a breath of fresh air with a wonderfully diverse range of people from all parts of Ireland and many others of Irish extraction. Besides this there were several Englishmen who I think would have preferred to have been Irish

Did you play County rugby, if so who for? No, I much preferred to play for Charles Burton's Public School Wanderers on a Wednesday afternoon. I was asked to play for Middlesex by Charlie Ralston but declined

Was your father a big influence on your rugby playing career? Yes, but my mother was a bigger influence. She used to regularly watch 3 games of rugby each Saturday when my two brothers and I were at school, starting with the U13's at 9:30am and moving on to the U15's (to watch my brother Harry) and then take in Instonians in the afternoon.
[My wife Joyce was also hugely supportive of me in my playing career, most especially when I was side lined by injury or fighting to get fit again after injury.
I suppose I must have must missed about 4 full seasons through injuries such as broken arm with plating and bone grafts, fractured skull, broken leg and neck vertebrae damage.

How important was rugby to your family? When I was growing up, nothing seemed to be more important. My father played rugby for Ireland and the Lions (1938) and went on to be on the International Rugby Board for about 20 years and was President of the Irish Rugby Union in the Centenary year of 1974, my uncle Des played for Ireland and also became President of the Irish Rugby Union, my brother Harry has recently been president of the Ulster Branch and I suppose that he would judge the pinnacle of his playing career as a time when he came on as a substitute for Mike Gibson in the centre for the last 20 minutes of a game against Scotland (I think) back in 1975 or '76. Alistair was first capped for the full Irish team when he was still a schoolboy, and sadly was forced to retire from the game when he was only 23

Do you still watch rugby? Yes, occasionally but without real passion. I do enjoy watching the Irish provinces play on the Setanta TV Chanel. My nephew, Roger Wilson, plays number 8 for Ulster and so this is a good family focus

Roger Wilson

When was the last time you attended a London Irish match? I went to the double-header at Twickenham in September when London Irish narrowly beat Harlequins. It was not a classic game and I think I dozed off from time to time. It must have been the effect of the very weak beer they serve there (3.2% - Outrageous!)

Sunbury or Reading, which do you prefer? I've never been to Reading, so it must be Sunbury. Actually I have fantastic memories of Sunbury and the great characters I met there

In your opinion should London Irish build their own ground? I am completely unqualified to venture any opinion on this

Has your old position changed since you played? Yes, they now seem to be about twice the size that we were! I suppose they are all much fitter and certainly wealthier... but are they happy?

Which modern day player would you have liked to play with? Brian O'Driscoll, without any question. Having said this, I'd still prefer Alistair. This may be regarded as taking family loyalty to extremes

Do you prefer the rugby of today or when you played? Without any question the rugby when I played. For me, the enjoyment of the game was all about playing the game. I am not a great spectator. Having said this, the game today is much more fluid and confrontational, and, for all but the most partisan, is unquestionably a better spectacle than when I played

Are there any rules you would like to see changed? Yes, there are far too many substitutes allowed in matches today. I believe that substitutes should only be allowed in cases of serious injury. Part of the fun of the game used to be wearing down the opposition so that you could capitalise in the last 20 minutes. Today's team simply bring on half a new team in the last 20 minutes!

What is Alastair up to these days? Alive and well and living in a lovely house just above the National Trust Village of Lacock in Wiltshire. He is a GP and is married to Heather who has her Physio practice in what used to be the stables. They have 3 children, Nicholas, Harry and Georgia

Your father was awarded a C.B.E. for his service to rugby, what are your memories of the day? Yes, I think it was about 1976. I was at Loughborough and came down to London to visit the Queen. It was a great family occasion

What is your proudest sporting moment? I have two, being at Lansdowne Road to see Alistair play for Ireland for the first time in Ireland. It is quite remarkable to think that he was still at school when he was first capped. The other was watching my daughter Hannah compete for Great Britain in the Athens Olympics in Rhythmic Gymnastics.

Hannah McKibbin-Olympian
The most successful Rhythmic Gymnast Britain has ever had

Both hugely emotional times, but I'm sure that it will be OK with Alistair if I select watching Hannnah in Athens as the supreme moment. She had to fight so hard through injury to be at the Olympics at all , so it was such a proud moment for me and for Joyce and our two other daughters,Kitty and Charlotte to see Hannah perform in Athens.

London Irish are playing Ulster in this year's European Cup. Who will you be cheering for? I will be cheering for London Irish but, having said this, my nephew Roger Wilson, is playing number 8 for Ulster so I hope he scores a try.
I shall of course be going to Reading to see the game - my first visit!

The 1980 Cup Final programme says that you were a teacher, when did you give up teaching? I gave up teaching in 1984. I thought that 7 years was enough. In fact I only wanted to be in teaching whilst I was in rugby

What is your occupation? Sales Executive Director running the City Office of the St James's Place Wealth Management Group

Can you give a brief resume of your career? 22 years in Financial Services in London, mostly very enjoyable, not rich enough to retire yet (I do it for love!!)
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