A brave and talented friend who heard the bell for the last time

Somehow Rory found the will to get to his feet and take his stance. He looked his opponent in the eye and said, “Come on you bastard. I’m not scared of you.”

Mon, May 6, 2013, 12:42

“They call me Rory.” That was how he always introduced himself. “Rory, ‘Lights out’ Lackey.”

Rory was not a rugby player. He was a former welterweight boxer.

To define him as just a boxer is a grave injustice. He was a wonderful artist. His paintings and murals were engaging. The walls of his home, doors at friend’s houses and rugby club changing rooms became his canvas.

He was a gifted fitness coach, trainer and masseur.

Like his sport he was tough as iron.

In the middle stages of a gruelling boxing conditioning session I would listen for his famous quote. When he sensed everyone was hurting his graveling, commanding voice would fill the air. “Pain is weakness leaving your body.”

Like all good coaches he was a practicing amateur psychologist.

When a promising player needed to toughen up “between the ears,” I would send him for boxing conditioning at Rory’s home.

Rory had a backyard full of heavy punching bags, speedballs, heavy tractor tyres and thick climbing ropes. The walls and fences were covered with eclectic murals.

The “innocent” player would stand, open mouthed, as Rory opened the door. With a mullet haircut, a boxers bent nose, wearing a T-shirt with the sleeves ripped off and a tooth missing smile, Rory would murmur, “Welcome to hell.”

We jokingly nick-named Rory’s house, “Cape Fear.”

Training session

Rory loved the theatre of his sport.

I first met Rory when I was still playing grade rugby in Sydney. Some of my mates were training with him one summer and they asked me to come along for a session.

I made a major tactical error on my first day. He asked if I had ever boxed. I told him I had done a few amateur bouts as boy. Bad mistake. With hindsight I should have shut up and told the truth that I was no boxer.

Rory decided to put me through some tests. I failed each one. I knew I failed because they all ended with me getting a smack in the face from Rory’s highly trained fists.

Rory pulled every punch and we liked each other immediately.

Rory believed that boxing was great conditioning for rugby players because they have to make decisions while fatigued.

Depending on how Rory placed his reaction mitts, you had to respond with the correct combination.

Any error or hesitation would result in the hard edge of his mitt clipping you between the eyes.

Learn a lot

He passionately believed, what I had discovered on my own brief and undistinguished trips inside a boxing ring. In those few moments when you face another human being who wants to punch you until you fall over, you learn a great deal about yourself.

You learn to fight, act and rely on no one but yourself. Literally there is no place to hide. You have to be brave.

I brought Rory with me as the team boxing trainer and masseur to most teams I coached in Australia.

Rory would come to rugby training and watch the player I needed him to work on. He would always walk away, shaking his head, mumbling about ‘soft private school boys need to toughen up in the head.’

In 1999 with the Waratahs ,we decided that the boys needed to do a few rounds of sparring as part of the pre-season.

While this is common practise today, in the late 1990s it was radical.

Mental strength

His methods added to the mental strength of several players who went on to win the 1999 RWC.

I kept in touch with Rory over the years. Like most boxers, he made money for others and not himself. He never married or owned great material possessions.

Each time I returned from working in Europe, I would bring him a tracksuit from the club I was coaching. He has Leinster, Ireland, Scotland, Ulster and Narbonne gear.

He loved to wear his tracksuit in front of his athletes.

Two weeks ago Rory was told he had advanced, terminal throat and stomach cancer. No matter how hard he fought he was going to lose this bout. No matter how tough he was, this mongrel was tougher.

He wrote long letters of love to his family. Then with the intensity of the fighter he was, he methodically and deliberately terminated his existence.

In his last letter Rory wrote, “Do not be sad for me. I have lived enough to fill 10 lives.” He was full of mischief, fun, laughter and talent. He was also brave beyond words.

My upbringing and religion has trained me to admonish his suicide, but I can’t.

He was and is my friend.

Reluctantly, I keep returning to the sad belief that it took enormous courage for Rory to end his own life. I don’t like this answer, but it is what I believe.

Like hearing the bell for the last round of a long fight, against a brawler who has belted him unmercifully. In his heart Rory knew the cancer had him beaten.

Somehow Rory found the will to get to his feet and take his stance. He looked his opponent in the eye and said, “Come on you bastard. I’m not scared of you.”

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