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  • Writer's pictureAndrew McGuinness

McGuinness Exits Rugby Stage After Final Act

In a guest post, my sister - Lesley Ann McDonnell - beautifully captures the mood following the retirement of our Dad, Shay McGuinness, after a lifetime in rugby.

As the curtain comes down on my Dad's rugby career a new generation of his grandchildren are just beginning theirs. Shay McGuinness' love of sport began in his early years in gaelic football, a sport he played for St. Maurs GAA club in Rush and his secondary school, O’Connell’s. This love of a fast paced, skillful game brought him to Skerries rugby club. There, Dad developed a flair for the game and lifelong intellectual regard for it. He played many years at senior level with Skerries, and was part of a successful chapter in the club’s history, being part of a team that won a Town’s Cup and attained senior status.

He moved to France in his mid-twenties to play for Fumel-Libos in Lot-et-Garonne, south west France. It’s a time he remembers with such fondness and is very special for our family. We continue to holiday in the south of France to this day and have made terrific friends there, many of whom can be traced back to Dad’s Fumel team. His time in France liberated him and broadened his rugby outlook. It gave him the vision and blueprint for the team he ultimately wanted to shape and coach: one that played expansive, fifteen man rugby.

When the time eventually came to hang up his own boots he quickly found a new hobby - coaching rugby! This led him to take charge of the senior team in Skerries for almost a decade. The first two years were no picnic. Dad was asked in an interview by Brendan Fanning in the Sunday Times in 1993 why he still wanted to lead the team after admittedly experiencing some ‘severe stuffings’ at the start of his reign. He was resolute about what he was overseeing and the ability of the young players coming through to senior ranks and ended the interview on a defiant tone: “I genuinely believe we’re on the verge of something decent here.”

Skerries reached new heights and continued to climb through the ranks of the All Ireland League. Along with his backroom team, Dad set a new standard within the club, whilst staying true to his Corinthian beliefs. He nurtured and cared for the players on and off the field. His intuitive skill for coaching rugby saw him work with some wonderful players, many of whom are still great, life long friends to this day. The connections and friendships made with people from Skerries and opposing clubs will be etched in his mind forever.

Our childhood was mostly spent in the rugby club or answering the phone at home for rugby related queries from players, club personnel and journalists. Those early days were made up of training sessions in Holmpatrick by the sea, going on rugby trips around Dublin and all the clubs in Ireland. We messed around with our friends, climbing trees, having picnics, minding the younger kids, riding our bikes and skating as well as dabbling in some rugby too (Mostly Andrew..) The best kinds of memories! Inside those walls of Fortress Holmpatrick, which Skerries became known in the 1990s, there was a tremendous freedom for us.

We had a thrilling ringside seat for the unforgettable 1998 season. Skerries were a team that mirrored Dad’s philosophy and ambition: skillful, tough and prepared to attack from everywhere on the field, typified by the epic team try Dosser finished off against St Mary’s College in the cup in Holmpatrick. Skerries launched an attack from the base of a scrum outside their own ‘22 and went the length of the field. It was total rugby - here it is captured on Youtube. Skerries just missed out on promotion to Division 1 and in the spring of 1998 embarked on one of the great, romantic cup runs by knocking off three Division 1 teams on their way to a sunny Saturday in the Leinster Senior Cup final in Lansdowne Road. The whole town was in Dublin 4 that day and will remember it for decades to come. Myself, my Mum, Andrew and Kate were unbelievably proud of what Dad helped bring about with key lieutenants Billy Mulcahy and Jimmy Dempsey directing traffic on the field, and Willie Dawson and the rest of the brains trust off it. We spent so many Saturday nights going home ten feet tall that season. 

As we grew up, Dad’s rugby commitments ramped up a level too. He took on the role of Irish Colleges head coach, all while still coaching in Skerries RFC and then Boyne RFC, alongside his teaching/principal posts in Milverton. He made it all look easy, I'm really not sure how. We were just lucky to be along for the ride. It was a job he also loved and cherished, which brought him all over the country, working with some of the most talented young players, a number of whom went on to be Irish internationals and play for the British and Irish Lions. Memorably, my Mum had to sow and extend a pair of new trousers for an 18-year-old redhead from Limerick before the Irish Colleges tour of South Africa in 1999. Paul O’Connell’s trousers were too short. They weren’t when he got on the flight a few days later.

Dad went on lots of fantastic tours around the UK, Europe and world with rugby. He played in the baby Heysel Stadium in Brussels for Ireland’s over 35’s and in a Hartlepool Rovers invitation XV with a young Will Carling. He assisted Mike Ruddock with Leinster’s ‘A’ team for a spell. In the weeks that follow Dad’s official retirement, hopefully he will share many more stories with us. In recent years, coached a number of Skerries youth teams with his lifelong friend, John Murphy. His dedication to the sport and club has almost never wavered in almost 50 odd years.

A few weeks ago he declared: “I’m going to finish this season out with the U18’s and then I’m officially finished coaching.” We were taken aback, not quite believing he was really finished, for good this time .... Thank you Dad for all you’ve done. It’s been one hell of a rugby career.  As a family, we are so incredibly proud of all you’ve achieved and the service you’ve given to each team. We hope you continue to get joy out of watching the game you love so much, and make the odd trip down to the club to watch your grandchildren and have a pint with close friends.



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