One of Ireland's most illustrious backrow forwards

Des O'Brien with his cap from the 1948 Grand Slam-winning Irish team

Des O'Brien with his cap from the 1948 Grand Slam-winning Irish team


Des O'Brien: Des O'Brien, who has died aged 86, was a member of the only Ireland team to win a Grand Slam, in 1948, in a five-year golden period that also yielded a Triple Crown. He ended his international career as team captain and in the 1960s managed a Lions tour.

Regarded as one of Ireland's most illustrious backrow forwards, he made his international debut against England at Twickenham on February 14th, 1948. Ireland won the match 11-10 and a fortnight later at Landsdowne Road beat Scotland 6-0. The Grand Slam decider was played in Ravenhill, Belfast, on March 13th, when Ireland again came out on top, beating Wales 6-3.

That night, Des O'Brien and two team-mates, Paddy Reid and JC Daly, ended up in a police cell, basically for high jinks after a run-in with members of an Orange flute band.

In 1949 Ireland retained the Triple Crown and in 1951 came close to winning a second Grand Slam only to be cruelly denied when they were held 3-3 by Wales in Cardiff. The Welsh took an early lead and a brilliant try by Jack Kyle evened the score, but Ireland had to settle for a draw.

"Unfortunately we didn't have a kicker [ on the day]," O'Brien recalled. "I think we tried four different people during the match." There were no post-match high jinks on this occasion. And he was in no mood for longwinded speeches at the official dinner. Instead, with fellow Belvederean and founder of the Dublin Theatre Festival, Brendan Smith, he got "gently drunk" in a pub on the outskirts of Cardiff.

Born in Dublin on May 22nd, 1919, he was the son of Tim O'Brien and his wife, Mary (née Molloy). A pupil of Belvedere College, he went on to join Old Belvedere and in 1940 and 1941 played in the first two of the famous seven-in-a-row Leinster senior cup-winning sides. He later played with Edinburgh University, London Irish and Cardiff.

He played wing forward at club level, but played at number eight for Ireland alongside Jim McCarthy and Billy McKay. Another player, Bertie O'Hanlon, explained the team's tactical approach: "We played our natural game and that was it and each and every member of the team had their strong points and weak points but, I guess, with us it proved beyond a shadow of doubt that our strong points really won in the end by winning the Triple Crown and Grand Slam."

Des O'Brien took over the captaincy from Karl Mullan for a match against South Africa in 1951 and captained Ireland during the 1951-52 season, rounding off his international playing career with a summer tour of Argentina and Chile. He played his last home international, against England on March 29th, 1952. In all, he was awarded 20 successive international caps.

An accomplished all-round sportsman, he was a top-class tennis player and played squash for Ireland 14 times. He earned a final hockey trial for Wales after he was transferred from Guinness in Dublin to work in Cardiff in the early 1950s. In 1966 he managed the Lions tour of Australia and New Zealand, and in 1990-91 was elected to the Rugby Writers of Ireland Guinness Hall of Fame.

He lived in Edinburgh for the past 20 years. His wife, Ann, their son and four daughters survive him.

Desmond Joseph O'Brien: born May 22nd, 1919; died December 26th, 2005