First Encounters: Paul Wallace and Professor John Reynolds

'Sport and rugby are what we have in common'


Paul Wallace is a former rugby player: one of three brothers who played for the Lions, he won 46 caps for Ireland before retiring in 2003. He is now a TV sports commentator, director of commercial property firm Bircroft and patron of Cross, a cancer research and awareness charity. He lives in Monkstown, Co Dublin, with his wife, Barbara Loftus

Businessmen Conor Headon and Ronan Murphy formed the Cross charity in 2004 to support the [cancer research] work being done by John. They always had a fundraising lunch and I’d go along to those. Then the economy crashed and charity fundraiser lunches fell apart. And the previous patron [Argentinian Leinster rugby player] Felipe Contepomi was moving on to play rugby in Toulon.

My friend Ronan, whose wife Michelle is the sister of John’s wife Muriel, asked me to come on board. At first all I did was turn up to the lunches. But John and I got chatting. He’d played a bit of rugby in Templeogue College, we got on well. In 2011, I became the charity’s patron. I was coming up to my 39th birthday and wanted to do something before I was 40. Because I have a very bad arthritic ankle, I decided all I could do was cycle. I said, “what about cycling from Mizen to Malin as a fundraiser?” I got my brothers Richard and David involved and other rugby players. It was on the back of all this that myself and John got to meet a lot more, as do our families.

He is incredibly humble, very understated, very quiet about what he’s achieved. My respect just kept growing as people who’d been treated by John came on board. These people would do anything for John, would run through walls for him, they knew John’s effort, John’s caring. He has a very good sense of humour, he’s self-deprecating. I haven’t had anyone check out just how good or bad a rugby player he was at Templeogue. I tease him, say you weren’t fed the same food in Templeogue as [former Leinster player] Mal O’Kelly, who’s about 6ft8in. Sport and rugby are the main things John and I have in common.

We have great conversations. He’s busy, but if you send him an email, he’s straight back to you. I respect John hugely. He hardly takes a holiday, treats each patient as a personal friend. I’ve met quite a few of his peers, and he has a tremendous reputation, as a person as well as a doctor. He’s very refreshing.

Prof John Reyplds 56, is a specialist oesophageal and gastric surgeon, and professor of surgery and head of the department of clinical surgery at Trinity College Dublin, based at St James’s Hospital. The Cross charity was established to support cancer research work in Trinity and St James’s. He lives in Donnybrook with his wife, Muriel, and their three children

I first met Paul in 2007 at an annual rugby-themed charity do in support of cancer research in Trinity College. Paul and his lovely wife Barbara Loftus, who are close friends of Cross co-founder Ronan Murphy and his family, were there. I knew a lot about Paul because I’m a rugby fan. I found him most affable, softly spoken, a real gent with an infectious joie de vivre. He fitted my expectations. The female consensus was that apart from a reconfigured nose from several breaks, he was better looking than your average front row forward, more Ali than Frazier.

In 2011, we asked Paul to be Cross’s patron. We were just hoping he’d lend his good name to some rugby-themed events, nothing more was anticipated. I remember him saying that he was getting into cycling, that the physical challenge appealed to him. The result is that he’s now leading the third charity cycle in September along the Wild Atlantic Way.

I’d love some day to do one of the stages but I’m much older than him, much more creaky. You’d have to see him in action, he has incredible stamina. Even if Paul’s been out ’til two or three in the morning, he’ll be up at six am, and literally eats three or four full Irish breakfasts before he heads out on the bike. We’ve become friends through these tours. Before that we’d just met at functions, had a few beers, met for lunch. He brings every bit of his very considerable self to lead it; he has an inclusive nature. It brings him close to every single participant, and to the marshals and volunteers who support the event.

It’s about his family as well, his brothers Richard, David and Henry and his friends from rugby. This year people on the cycle include former greats like John Smit and Peter Winterbottom. Probably the biggest hero of mine who’s done the trip every year is Mick Galwey.

I can emphatically state that Paul takes on a physical challenge like no one I have met. Even when obviously in pain he seems to have a smile permanently etched on those cherubic features. Anyone who can become the best tight-head prop in the world knows all about doing it for a team, I’d want that to shine through in talking about Paul as a friend.

The money raised this year will go towards buying a state-of- the-art piece of equipment called a Seahorse. It costs about €100,000. He’s a big teddy bear – literally and metaphorically. He gives everyone on the tour a big hug.

The Cross Rugby Legends Cycle from Mizen to Malin raises funds for cancer research in Trinity College and St James’s Hospital, Dublin, September 6th to 12th,

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