Of all the venues for John Gallagher to finally receive his All Blacks cap – 23 years since his final match – this was his top pick.
One of Oriental-Rongotai's favourite sons returned from England to prowl familiar sidelines at Miramar's Polo Ground as assistant coach of the Kent under-23 side yesterday, and to collect a prized possession.
Gallagher played the last of his 41 matches for the All Blacks against the Barbarians at Twickenham in November 1989 but recently proved elusive off the field, too, when the New Zealand Rugby Union sought to present caps to their rightful owners.
"I was getting emails from the NZRU for about the last five years saying 'Kipper, when are you going to come and get your cap'," he said, between bear hugs and backslaps from a throng of old mates.
"I sent them an email saying I was going to be here at Ories, how about I pop in and pick it up.
"They left it behind the counter for me."
And the formalities were completed last night when Ories president Tim Reddish presented the cap at the clubrooms, with many of Gallagher's team-mates from the senior side of the 1980s looking on.
"I couldn't think of a better place to have it presented," he beamed.
But there were some misty eyes, too.
Since Gallagher's previous visit to Ories with a school under-16 team, five years ago, three of his closest friends had passed on: club stalwarts Don Bond, Jim Currie and Colin Bridge.
"They're three of the main guys that really steered me through my formative years at Ories.
"And all of them died within months of each other before we won the Jubilee Cup, and before the World Cup.
"It was pretty poignant."
Now 48, Gallagher arrived in Wellington in 1984 as a skinny teenager, and left a revered All Black when he made a shock signing with English rugby league side Leeds in 1990. He played 18 tests and 41 matches in all, scored 35 tries and was never in a losing All Blacks team.
Gallagher farewelled his job as a policeman with his switch to league, and is now headmaster at Colfe's Preparatory School in southeast London.
He has two rugby-playing sons, Alex, 19, and Matt, 15, each bigger than their old man and showing promise.
Gallagher caught up with former All Blacks team-mates John Kirwan, Bernie McCahill, Alan Whetton and Joe Stanley in Auckland this week. He hopes his good mate Kirwan gets the Blues' coaching job.
"I know how passionate and how knowledgeable he is about rugby and I know JK would love the role".
Gallagher also attended Hurricanes training and is impressed by Andre Taylor, and All Blacks incumbent Israel Dagg.
"New Zealand fullbacks are looking pretty good at the moment. It's just a position to have fun from because you can do whatever you want."
For the record, his side beat a hastily thrown together Ories team 39-10. As the attack coach, Gallagher was pleased, but not as much as the team's jubilant captain, who rushed the sideline to embrace him on fulltime.
And as the celebrations and catchups wore on last night, the only thing causing Gallagher to frown was a scheduled early ferry trip this morning for the next leg of the tour in Oamaru.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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