Mick Doyle

Uncompromising rugby player and coach for Ireland

Mick Doyle was a fine example of the quintessentially hard, passionate and uncompromising flankers who have served Irish rugby so well down the years. Robust, committed and brave, he played at a time when the national side were undergoing something of a resurgence in the late 1960s, though Doyle will be remembered best for coaching Ireland to a rare Triple Crown and Five Nations' Championship success in 1985.

Michael Gerard Martin Doyle, rugby player, coach and veterinary surgeon: born Castleisland, Co Kerry 13 October 1941; twice married (one son, three daughters); died Dungannon, Co Tyrone 11 May 2004.

Mick Doyle was a fine example of the quintessentially hard, passionate and uncompromising flankers who have served Irish rugby so well down the years. Robust, committed and brave, he played at a time when the national side were undergoing something of a resurgence in the late 1960s, though Doyle will be remembered best for coaching Ireland to a rare Triple Crown and Five Nations' Championship success in 1985.

Doyle was introduced to the game that shaped his life at Newbridge College, Co Kildare, a school with a deserved reputation for producing outstanding rugby players. From there, he went to University College Dublin to study veterinary science. He had won the first of 20 consecutive caps for Ireland in 1965 - against France at Lansdowne Road, where he scored a try on his début - before going up to Cambridge, and gaining a Blue in the first drawn Varsity match since 1953.

After Cambridge, Doyle completed his studies at Edinburgh University and continued his club rugby with Edinburgh Wanderers, before returning to Ireland. Although the Triple Crown and the Five Nations' Championship continued to elude the men in green, with Doyle in the team alongside Mike Gibson, Willie John McBride, Tom Kiernan, Ken Kennedy, Mick Molloy and Noel Murphy it was a side rich in promise which, with two or three more class players, might have achieved much more. Even so they still managed to beat Australia three times in under two years, twice in Dublin and again in Sydney on a six-match tour in May 1968.

Later that month, Doyler - as he was known to all - was on his travels again, this time with the British Lions in South Africa where they were to play 20 matches and four Tests, three of which were lost, the second drawn. Doyle played in the first Test, in Pretoria, but with the pack having been overpowered by the heavier Springbok eight, Doyle, who was not a particularly big man, had to give way to the taller Jim Telfer in a reshaped back row, and the Scot played in the remaining three Tests.

It had been some year for Doyle, one of whose greatest pleasures was to have his younger brother, Tom, in the Ireland back row for the matches against England, Scotland and Wales in that season's Championship. However, with the demands of a young family, Mick decided that he would retire from international rugby, though he continued to play for his club, Blackrock College.

The next step was coaching, at which Doyle soon became a conspicuous success, leading Leinster to four Inter-Provincial Championships and sharing another between 1979 and 1984, before he was handed the coaching reins for the national side in controversial circumstances. Willie John McBride had been in the job for just a season when Doyle took over.

With a group of young players Doyle encouraged a free-running style, with players being able to express themselves to the full in a way that had not been seen from an Ireland team for many years. Having suffered a whitewash under McBride the previous season, Ireland, in 1985, were within sight of their first Grand Slam since 1948, though a drawn match with France at Lansdowne Road narrowly prevented a clean sweep. Once he retired from coaching, Doyle became a newspaper columnist, radio and TV pundit, and was highly regarded for his wide knowledge of the game and his outspoken views.

He was killed in a road accident in Co Tyrone. Twice before he had cheated death, firstly when he was in New Zealand, coaching at the inaugural World Cup in 1987 where he suffered a heart attack; though it was typical of him that he was back on the training field within four days. Then, in 1996 he fell victim to a brain haemorrhage. Doyle showed great resolution in learning to walk and speak again, before he could resume life as he knew it before his illness.

As less than 1 per cent of those with such a condition survive, the experience led him to write a book, Zero Point One Six: living in extra time (2001). After his rehabilitation, Doyle then worked for three years on the board of Headway Ireland, a charity formed to help those afflicted by acquired brain injuries.

Paul Stephens



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