Hero of the Grand Slam


Death of Des O'Brien: The death has taken place of one of Ireland's most illustrious backrow forwards, Des O'Brien, at the age of 86.

Part of the all-conquering 1948 team, number eight O'Brien partnered Jim McCarthy and Billy McKay as one of the back three that travelled to Paris under the captaincy of Karl Mullen to beat France 13-6 and kick-start the Grand Slam odyssey.

That particular backrow were known as "Jack Kyle's outriders", the posse who looked after the great outhalf during a more rough-and-ready rugby era.

Ireland went on to beat England 13-6 in Dublin, Scotland 3-0 at Murrayfield and Wales 6-3 in Belfast to win the 1948 Grand Slam and secure a proud place in the annals of Irish rugby.

O'Brien was an all-round sportsman and excelled in several disciplines. He played squash and tennis at international level and earned a final hockey trial with Wales when he was transferred from Guinness in Dublin to work in Cardiff in the early 1950s.

But it was for rugby that he will be best remembered. A Belvedere College student, O'Brien went on to join Old Belvedere RFC and played on the first two of the famous seven-in-a-row Leinster Senior Cup-winning sides.

He earned his first Ireland cap in that Paris game of 1948 and went on to play in all of Ireland's games until 1952, by which time the Grand Slam and Triple Crown had been won.

In 1952 he was named Ireland captain, taking over from Karl Mullen, and led the Irish team on a tour to Argentina.

After retiring as a player O'Brien was asked to manage the Lions and did so in 1966.

Hugely involved with his local community in latter years, he died in Edinburgh, where he had resided for more than 20 years.

- Johnny Watterson