Going out with all guns blazing

22 September 2017

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An obituary to Pat Geraghty, Ex-Munster and Leinster Rugby media official. Geraghty had the trust of the entire Munster dressing room.

In a Harold’s Cross hospice last Friday morning, I sat at the foot of his bed, dusting down all the good old days with Pat Geraghty. I was doing a lot of the talking, all of it in fact, and for that alone, it was a unique conversation.

Fact was often stranger than fiction in those old Munster days. Once, the Munster players locked Geraghty in a cupboard at a Christmas night out in Langton’s in Kilkenny and threw it and him down the stairs. That signified Pat was a made man in Munster. That he was one of us. That he didn’t just have the trust of the dressing room. He was part of the dressing room. And he was fair game for the same merciless culture of banter and ridicule we all were. Sink or swim friend.

On the team bus, we drowned Geraghty with our version of his song, Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’. And we rounded off every chorus, all 52 of us, ‘Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie, Lie la lie, la lie, Pat’s full of shit’.

He got unending roastings from the players, but that meant he wasn’t management, and we never saw him as such. When we mangled Simon and Garfunkel what we were really saying was ‘you’re talking absolute shite half the time, but we actually love you and we know you’ve got our back’.

Dougie Howlett may be the only other person I know in rugby with that attribute. A guy totally, completely on your side. Even when you are 100% wrong, he backs you. That’s how you know he’s a real loyal friend. He didn’t have a lot to say last Friday morning, but when Geraghty gripped my hand and recognised me, it was the firm grip of substance, of decency and of honour.

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It’s 17 years since, so it’s too easy to forget that there was an original Munster Rugby. The one in Dooradoyle, the one before Twickenham, Toulouse, and Cardiff. Pat was one of the originals. From 2000 to 2013, I had my share of backstabbers and bad moments, and Pat was riding shotgun for them all. To pick me up after the Twickenham final against Northampton, and more or less the meandering road after til we both packed our bags around the same time in 2013. When he went on offence on your behalf, it was with all guns blazing. I know he laid into journalists for some of the stuff they were writing about me. I know that because he then came in and shut the door behind him. “That bollox wasn’t all wrong about you, by the way.”

Pat was like that. He was smart enough to recognise the difference between perception and reality. The perception he could fix. Other times, he’d say to me, “I can do so much but you playing well answers everything.”

Because he had the trust of the dressing room, he could impart honesty if and where he saw fit. What the media saw as a shield, or perhaps a barrier, to the Munster players, we saw as a mentor and ally. Getting it between the eyes from Geraghty wasn’t always a comfortable experience but it was a valuable learning curve and came with the guarantee of integrity. Building me as a person capable of differentiating between the perception and the truth was no load to carry.

What he displayed time after time was an innate sense of timing, and good judgement. Munster’s connection with its support was something he understood and appreciated the value of from his earliest weeks in the job.

With our ragged edges, that wasn’t always an easy needle to thread. There was a balance between our right to privacy and our duty to the supporters and the continuing relationship between those groups is, in a significant way, partly down to Geraghty’s judgement. In more recent years together, the whole mobile phone cameras phenomenon complicated the issue of boundaries, yet he always knew the moments to say “let the lads have a drink” or to say “you are welcome, they are more than happy to take photos”. And we trusted his judgement in those situations.

He had come to us from Leinster which in ordinary circumstances could have made for a bumpy transition, but 10 minutes in Geraghty’s company convinced me and others he was more Lunster than Leinster. Yesterday we gathered in Celbridge for his funeral mass, stirring forgotten moments in Naas on the way home from international weekends. Naas? Why would we stop in Naas? Because it was Geraghty territory, and for that alone, we felt we were among our own. If Pat pointed us towards a pub in Kildare, it meant that it came with his imprimatur. That was good enough for me.

If his public and media persona was of a coarse, brusque individual, then it presented a distorted version of Pat Geraghty. There are people you get a very warm vibe off immediately and Geraghty was one such. In rugby, there’s an awful lot of us strut about like we are bulletproof, but in fact we are quite insecure. He was very good in that regard, giving you a steer on what to say and how to say it. Assuring us he had us covered. None of us were savvy in media training in those early days, and it was a great feeling knowing you weren’t on your own going into these press sessions.

It’s well-worn now by the telling, but the time he went nose-to-nose with a prying French journalist at a pre-match training session in Paris summed up the protective shield he willingly threw around us. “Geraghty, go down there and tell yer man to get the fuck off,” Claw was telling him in his own inimitable way. Your man wouldn’t move and Pat gave him a box. No ifs or buts. Bang.

Quinny came into UL one day after he’d retired, working for Sky Sports and Pat gave him the road. That’s how Munster he was. The rules have changed, Quinny. You’re on the other side now, you can’t have your cake and eat it. Now Quinny initially thought he was joking and got a right hump over it. But the message was unambiguous: my loyalty is to Munster. You don’t like it? Tough. These are the house rules.

By these demonstrations of his loyalty to Munster, he earned his right in the group to be a big figure, with his larger than life character, and with his licence to call it and say it as it was — as opposed to being a yes man.

When there were no prying eyes or microphones, he was incredibly decent to Jessica’s mum, and her granddad, going to games when he had no need to be. Musgrave Park may have changed but if Geraghty was around, he’d still be sorting Jess’s granddad for a ticket or a parking space. And dare you throw an obstacle in his way.

Death is an awful thing. I wanted to see him before he went. Alan Gaffney did the same, flying from Australia to visit Pat in the hospice.

That was really decent, but it’s something he’d do himself for those close to him. Sitting at the bottom of the bed last week, I wasn’t sure he recognised his visitor until he growled back at me. Then for a moment we were back in those moments, eyeballing each other as Geraghty told you what’s what.

There were times when I was so lonesome, I took some comfort there, Le le lie le le le le lie.

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