Saturday 16 December 2017

Late Neville's try part of our rugby heritage

Wexford man scored against All Blacks

Brendan Furlong

Neville Furlong heading for the try line against New Zealand in 1992. Photograph: Inpho
Neville Furlong heading for the try line against New Zealand in 1992. Photograph: Inpho

Former Ireland rugby international Neville Furlong has passed away at the age of 49 following an illness.

Many will feel the deep loss of Neville, notably his family in Wexford, past and present members of Wexford Wanderers Rugby Club where he developed his first love for the game, the 63rd Cadet Class, the 12th Infantry Battalion, Connacht, Ireland, his old Army colleagues and those from Garryowen Rugby Club, but most of all his wife Trish and sons Odran and Kyle.

Neville progressed through the ranks to become an international winger, and was the last Irish player to score a four-point try.

He played on two occasions for Ireland before injury cut short his career, gaining both caps on the tour to New Zealand in 1992, scoring one try in his first test match on June 6, 1992. Having scored the last try valued at four points, rugby changed its scoring system later that year.

Ireland almost shocked the hosts in that second test match after Neville's try, losing 24-21, and he also lined out in the second test despite carrying an injury.

A tall, strong winger, Furlong served Garryowen with distinction as a player, helping them to an All-Ireland League title in 1995. He was a coach and administrator, while also being one of the club's leading lights in the promotion of under-age rugby.

Neville represented his province in the 1990s. Given his major contribution to the game, the entire rugby community is in mourning following his untimely death.

The tour to New Zealand saw Ireland travel south with a depleted squad to take on the then semi-professional All Blacks, coming within a fingertip of a marvellous victory in that opening test.

He was defensively heroic that day, and shipped a serious injury in the process. While the Irish were left shell-shocked in the test given the ferocity of the All Blacks side, Furlong stood up manfully to the challenge.

His contribution has appeared in print but his trademark challenge to one of the world's greatest wingers at the time, John Kirwan, has gone down in memory.

'Give me the ball,' he famously told his team-mates, 'and I'll score'. He did, getting a consolation try after being taunted by John Kirwan for most of the afternoon.

He delivered the perfect rebuttal: 'You're supposed to be the best in the world but you couldn't even tackle a cripple'.

Furlong had his early education in St. Peter's College and played football with Shelmaliers, going on to feature with Wexford Minor and under-21 football teams.

His passion for rugby was nurtured at Wexford Wanderers Rugby Club, and he started to focus exclusively on the sport during his days at U.C.G., playing with the Irish Students and Universities, Connacht and Ireland 'A'.

Like his rugby captain at the time, Ciarán Fitzgerald, Furlong became an army captain too, based in Sarsfields Barracks, Limerick. The ankle damage sustained on that 1992 tour kept him out of the game for 18 months.

While he helped Garryowen to that league title in 1995, more recently assisting with their under-age set-up, he also found time to have stints as a physical trainer for the Ahane and Kilmurry-Ibrickane footballers, as well as the Patrickswell hurlers.

Connacht Rugby C.E.O. Willie Ruane said: 'On behalf of everyone in Connacht Rugby I would like to express my deepest condolences to the Furlong family on Neville's sad passing. The entire rugby community is in mourning'.

As Neville, who lived in Island View, Stradbally, Castleconnell, Limerick, exited from St. Joseph's Church, Castleconnell, on Thursday forenoon for burial in the adjoining cemetery, his 12th Battalion rugby team-mate Sgt. Ian Ryan, 'Ryaner', led the 12th Battalion pall-bearers with the music of Luka Bloom ringing out.

Beloved son of the late Ronan, and loving brother of the late Rhonda, he will be sadly missed by his loving wife Trish, sons Odran and Kyle, mother Collette, Belvedere Road, Wexford, brothers Damien, Ronan and Kenan, sister Leah, extended family and friends.

Wexford People

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