Former Munster, Ireland and Lions outhalf Ronan O'Gara last night said he was thrilled to be honoured in his home town when 900 guests attended a testimonial dinner in his honour at Cork City Hall.
Accompanied by his wife, Jessica, O’Gara spoke briefly to the media on his way into the gala banquet. He said he hoped one day to return to Munster as a head coach after learning the trade at Racing Metro where he is kicking coach.
“I have the best of memories with both Munster and Ireland. When I started playing with Munster there were 500 people watching us and now there are 80,000. It’s a great story and we’ve had every emotion, from crushing disappointments to the best of days.
“Munster is the team I love,” he added, “and one of my ambitions is to coach Munster if I’m good enough. I’d love to do it some day but that’s for another day – tonight is about looking back and it promises to be a great evening.”
The €300-a-plate dinner, with contributions going to Cork University Hospital Paediatric Unit, Crumlin Medical and Research Foundation and the Donal Walsh Foundation, was organised by a committee chaired by developer Michael O'Flynn, who spoke of O'Gara's professionalism.
“Tonight is a sell-out event in City Hall but we could have sold it out several times over. It’s great to see a true sporting legend recognised in his own city in this way and that’s only right and proper.”
The event, which was by presided over by Anne Doyle, included interviews by Donal Lenihan and George Hook with some of O'Gara's former teammates, as well as performances by Mario Rosenstock and soprano Cara O'Sullivan.
Among the guests were many of O'Gara's former Munster and Ireland teammates, including Doug Howlett, Alan Quinlan, Peter Clohessy, David Wallace, Frankie Sheahan, Brian O'Driscoll, David Humphreys, Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan.
who had just become a father for the third time.
Also present were former teammates John Hayes, Denis Hickey, Simon Zebo, Eric Elwood, Mick O’Driscoll and Marcus Horan as well as former coach, Declan Kidney and O’Gara’s rival for the Irish jnumber 10 jersey, David Humphreys who paid him a generous tribute.
“History will show when we look back on what Rog achieved both for club and country and at Lions level, he’s been an exceptional ambassador for both Munster and Irish rugby and of course he’s been central to what has been a golden generation for Irish rugby.”
“The nature of being an outhalf is that you spent a lot of time together from a kicking point of view and that’s where I got to know Rog best - we obviously competed at provincial level and competed at training together at national level and became good friends.”
Stars from other sports also attended, among them former Man Utd and Republic of Ireland star, Roy Keane, Cork All-Ireland winning football coach and captain Billy Morgan, and Cork 1990 All-Ireland hurling captain and Kerry stars, Colm Cooper and Tomas O Se.
Other guests included Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Catherine Clancy, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Cork’s two bishops, Dr John Buckley and Dr Paul Colton.