By Seán Creedon
Patrick ‘Rala’ O’Reilly, who admits to having been an average club rugby player with Terenure College, was better known as the meticulous bagman with Ireland and the British and Irish Lions rugby teams.
Rala, who will be 74 in April, is old enough to remember the days of the final Irish trials in the sixties and seventies. It was the era when the Probables (Whites) would play The Possibles (Blues) at Lansdowne Road.
Sometimes the Big Five selectors might move a player from the whites to the blues during the game. It was said that the only way supporters could be sure of the identity of a player was that they always wore their club socks.
The Big Five are long gone and now we have a professional coach, who has three test games in November each year to decide what is his best XV for the Six Nations campaign.
Ireland started with a home game against Wales on February 5. Normally if we are home to England and France in the same season, Ireland are always reckoned to have a chance of winning the competition. But this year Andy Farrell will have to take his team to Twickenham and Paris.
Rala watched Ireland win all three of their autumn internationals against Japan, New Zealand and Argentina as a supporter. I asked him what he thinks of our chances in the upcoming Six Nations campaign?
‘‘After three wins where we scored 142 points we go into the Six Nations on a high, led by the most capable of captains in Johnny Sexton. In the past we would not be given a chance if were away to England and France in the same season. Now I think we are capable of beating anybody in the world, whether that be in Chicago, London or Paris.
‘‘The coaches of all the countries will have one eye on the World Cup in France in 2023. People say that Johnny Sexton will be 38 by the time the World Cup comes round, but in my opinion if Johnny is fit he should play.’’
Rala was born John Patrick O’Reilly in Inchicore, Dublin in April 15th, 1948. The family lived in Woodfield Cottages until he was eight years old. His father was a heating and plumbing contractor, and he later bought a new house for his wife, Helen, and nine children in Templeogue Village.
‘‘I remember making my First Communion in St. Michael’s Church, Inchicore, across the road from Richmond Park. One of the highlights of the day was buying a Crunchie. It has been my favourite chocolate bar since then,’’ said Rala.
I always thought that the nickname ‘Rala’ had something to do with cheering by supporters, but not so.
Rala explained the background to his name. ‘‘One day in school I was trying to write my name in Irish on the blackboard. I got four letters done R- A- L- A and then stopped. A classmate shouted ‘good old Rala’ and the name stuck.’’
He played as a hooker with Terenure until the age of 35. Then at the start of the 1983-84 season Paul Joyce and Barry Coleman, were appointed joint coaches of the Terenure first team and they asked Rala if he would like to be become bagman for the team.