A golden era


Irish Rugby has lost yet another great from the Golden Era of 1948-51 with the death of George Norton, who has died aged 79. He was capped for Ireland on 11 occasions between 1949 and 1951 and that total would have been considerably greater had not injury brought a premature end to a career in which he served Ireland superbly in the full back position. His death came just six days after that of one of his team mates on the Ireland sides of 1950 and 1951, Des McKibbin.

George's introduction to rugby came during his schooldays at St Mary's College and he subsequently played at senior club level for St Mary's, where his late brother Austin held down the full back position.

That prompted George to move to Bective Rangers. His career blossomed in the Bective colours and his great skill and prolific place kicking earned him his first cap against France at Lansdowne Road in January 1949 and he marked that by kicking three penalty goals in the match.

A fortnight later he kicked two penalty goals and a conversion when Ireland defeated England 14-5 and he kicked a penalty goal and two conversions in the 13-3 win over Scotland at Murrayfield. On 12th March 1949, he converted a try by Jim McCarthy that enabled Ireland to defeat Wales 5-nil at the St Helen's ground in Swansea and so win the Triple Crown and Championship for the second successive season.

His total of 26 points in the championship in 1949 beat by a point the then record of 25 points in a championship which had been set in 1913 by Dickie Lloyd. He played in all four championship matches for Ireland in 1950 and scored a further 15 points. His outstanding displays for Ireland earned him selection for the Lions team that toured New Zealand and Australia in 1950. However, he broke an arm playing for the Lions against Southland early in the tour and that ended his participation in the tour.

He was again Ireland's full back in the 1951 Championship when Ireland won the title for the third time in four seasons. He played in the victories over France, England and Scotland.

However, a shoulder injury sustained after 15 minutes in the match against Scotland not alone ruled him out of the match against Wales when a draw foiled Ireland of a grand slam, but ended his brilliant playing career. He became an accomplished referee and in that capacity took charge of a Leinster Schools Cup final. He was subsequently honoured with the presidency of Bective Rangers. He was also honoured last year by being named in the Rugby Writers of Ireland - Guinness Hall of Fame.

He was a sportsman of rounded skills, who, in addition to his rugby prowess, was also an accomplished soccer player and he played for Shamrock Rovers for a period in the League of Ireland. But George wore his fame lightly. He was a modest and unassuming man. His health had not been good in recent years, but it never diminished his spirit or the great warmth of his personality. Sincere sympathy is extended to his wife Kay and family.