The news came while we were in Coonagh this evening(Wednesday, 11 Jan) that Colm Tucker passed away at the age of just 59. We were acutely aware of the battle he had with his health in recent years, but the shock was numbing. Our immediate thoughts turned to his family, his wife Geraldine, sons Colm Junior and Richard, his daughter Rachel and the devastating heartbreak that they now endure. Colm was revered by his family, and in turn, he offered them undiluted support in all their endeavours.
His health difficulties were probably the only thing that bettered Colm either on or off the pitch, such was his enormous talent and personality.
He was a man that gave so much back to the club. No one can cast a doubt as to Colm's commitment to Shannon RFC in a period that extended close to 40 years.
He joined Shannon in the 70's and even as a youngster had the power and physic to muscle his way onto the Shannon senior side. His prowess in the back row was the catalyst for many of our clubs famous Munster cup victories, none more so than the 1977 Cup final. A sweet day for the club, beating Garryowen, which many would say, set the tone for the club for 40 years and beyond. He went on to win six Munster senior cup medals during a period when such medals were as cherished as Heineken cup medals these days.
Colm's legacy is one of fortitude, bravery and commitment, and it was those traits that saw his talents recognised beyond the clannish culture of Limerick and Munster club rugby. Munster beckoned and his natural ability as an uncompromising No.6 was paralleled with a work ethic, which those around him in the day say was before his time. This combination however, was rewarded by a representative career that began with Munster, and then to Ireland, and then to the British and Irish Lions.
His status as an all time Munster legend was cemented on that famous 1978 day when the All Blacks became the vanquished in Thomond park amidst scenes of disbelief and jubilation.
Prior to that, Colm had donned a green jersey in 1977, albeit in a B international and it took a further two years before he was recognised as a peerless No.6 in the county.
On a day when his club colleague, Gerry McLoughlin also made his debut, Colm, at 26 won the first of his three International caps against France. Why so few caps for a man so talented? Well the stories of political selection in those days have been mentioned many a time as a reason, and his subsequent involvement with Irish international sides was confined to sitting on the bench six times.
His talents though were recognised by the British and Irish Lions on their South African tour of 1980 and Colm became Shannon RFC's first Lion. It was his selection that put our club on the world stage, and if that alone was Colm's contribution, than we would be eternally grateful. Twice he lined out in test matches in the famous red jersey, one of which continues to adorn the wall of our Presidents room in Thomond Park.
There is so much to remember Colm Tucker for and perhaps selfishly we in the club often feel it revolves around Shannon because he was around the club for so long, but his spirit has touched a generation of people from around the country and indeed the world.
I asked him once what he considered to be a highlight of his illustrious career and quick as a flash he said his first senior cup medal. I found it a bit incredulous, what with all his achievements, but he explained his reasoning. In 1974 he played his first cup final, and Shannon were beaten 29-0 by Garryowen, a considerable hiding to say the least and there was a commitment made by those involved that this would never happen again, for themselves, and the club. The long grass remained intact until 1977; Shannon V Garryowen cup final and typically the light blues were favourites, but in the end Shannon won the club's second senior cup and Colm explained to me that there was a sense of self validation, individually, and for the club that day that he felt was unsurpassed in his career. Now that may have been Colm giving his captive audience what they wanted to hear, but I have no doubt as to his sincerity that day.
His playing days concluded in the late eighties and almost immediately he became a backroom man in so many senses of the phrase. He immersed himself in the club and was involved as a selector and manager, but it was deep in the backroom where perhaps Colm's talents were best utilised. Under the radar of a great many people, Colm worked to build Shannon's all conquering AIL team of the nineties with a few other exceptional personal. The methodology was kept tight, but one thing is for sure and certain, it worked, and there is absolutely no doubt that our club would not have developed into what we have matured into, without the considerable input of Colm.
Few could say no to a request from Colm. He had such a presence, but behind his vision was a thought process that would continue to steer Shannon in the direction of domination in the nineties. A Colm Tucker Project was a successful project.
His hand was still involved with Munster and it may not be widely known by the current Red Army that Colm was Munster's manager during the infancy of the European rugby Cup in the mid nineties.
Again, his powerful and passionate personality was well suited to the burgeoning professional era, which in no small way set the standard for what was to follow.
In 1999 he became President of his beloved club which I know he was tremendously honoured to be, and while the AIL eluded the club during that time, he could still claim a hugely successful presidency with a Munster senior cup victory.
His continued involvement during the new millennium ensured further AIL Glory for the club, and once again, his role was to a great many, unseen.
Perhaps we are a little selfish to think that Colm was just a Shannon man, such was his synonymous association with the club, but the instantaneous nature of social media has given us a portal into just how much this colossus was respected and how much he will be remembered.
I consider myself fortunate to have seen Colm play at the tail end of his career and even as a 12 and 13 year old, I have vivid recollections of senior cup games in Thomond Park and beyond. I have a clear memory of meeting Colm in person for the first time around that period, nowhere near Thomond Park, but on the Kilrush to Killimer ferry with my dad. I knew who he was, and remember the excitement telling my dad that Colm Tucker was on the ferry. My dad had an acquaintance with Colm and struck up a conversation. Well, to see my dad talk to the great Colm Tucker was almost unbelievable, and then to be introduced with, "Andrew plays with the Shannon U/13's", felt as if for a brief second I was his equal in playing in the same jersey. I can't remember the conversation with him, but I know for fact, that I came away with a lasting impression of the man.
Again, I count myself very fortunate to have got to know him better in adulthood and his generosity knew no bounds. When he was owner of the well-known Shannon watering hole in town, The Office, he would very often see you head out the door and inquire as to where you were off to. Knowing the younger folk might be short of a bob or two, if the answer was home, he'd sit you down, and make sure you had a few more drinks, with his compliments, before you left.
I was first introduced to one of our club songs "Shannon, you are my Pride" by Colm in some of those late evenings in The Office. He sang it beautifully, and every time I hear it now, it always reminds me of the late nights there.
Colm Tucker was man who was passionate about life, about family, about rugby and of course, Shannon. His contribution to our club in every way, is rivaled by very few. He stood for honesty decency and commitment. His ethics in all aspects of life meant that no better role model could be looked upon and his children are all a testament to that.
It was hard to start this piece, but it's even harder to finish it. What words could adequately sum up what Colm Tucker has meant to so many people, as a player, and more importantly as a person.
Probably none, well none that I can think of except to say, Colm Tucker, your legend is etched in the minds and actions of many. You will be sadly and deeply missed by your loving and caring family whose lives will left bereft of a great man. We mourn your passing with them, but will all always remember you.
And in the words of that beautiful club song,
"...Your fame is handed down, through song and story"
To Ger, Rachel Colm Jnr., Richard, his grandchild Oige, son-in-law Tom, daughter-in-law Deidre, and his extended family, we offer our deepest and sincerest condolences.
May you rest in peace Colm.
Funeral arrangements to follow