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07th Nov 2014

‘I was no angel’ – Peter Clohessy on stamps, fires and black-outs

Terrific tales of Munster's legendary prop enrich 'A Life with Claw'

Patrick McCarry

Any rugby book that starts with a petrol-soaked explosion and a Lazarus-like comeback for a Heineken Cup semi-final gets our page-turning recommendation.

“A Life with Claw: The Peter Clohessy story” follows the Munster legend from a cigarette smoking 10-year-old and a hard-drinking young prop, to a hard-drinking older prop hounded by the media for stamping on French heads.

The Limerick native was awarded his first IRFU professional contract a month before his 30th birthday and, along with Mick Galwey, is credited for instilling a sense of identity and doggedness in the Munster squad.

Uniquely in the Irish sports-book market, A Life with Claw is written by Anna Gibson-Steele, Clohessy’s wife.

“It’s different from other books,” says Clohessy.

“And, in fairness, Anna knows me inside out. She remembers all the incidents and little details from my career. I tend to forget things that happened two weeks ago. I certainly can’t remember how some nights finished. Some of the stories in the book had me laughing out loud while others were very emotional.”

Having played in the 1992 victory over a touring Australian team, Clohessy and Galwey were were the elder statesmen at Munster when the gamed turned professional three years later. Declan Kidney and Jerry Holland eventually stepped in to share the coaching roles but the former prop recalls a difficult beginning.

“A lot changed when we switched from amateur to pro. Declan want to do things his way and, certain times, we didn’t agree with how he was going about things. We ended up reaching a happy medium”.

That medium included Kidney putting his two stalwarts on a lengthy leash while cracking down on misdemeanors from the younger squad members. There is a famous tale of Clohessy, during a Munster team-bonding session, taking his group off to the pub.

“We definitely did some orienteering, but the the de-tour to the pub was great for bonding too. We were cute enough to finish up in time to get back at the same time as everyone else.”

Peter Clohessy 16/10/2014

Munster struggled in the early days of the Heineken Cup but Clohessy insists it was not down to a lack of effort.

“Anyone who has ever pulled on an Arsenal jersey takes it seriously. The provinces were behind everyone else at the time. We were the last country to go properly pro. The simple fact is we were not good enough back then”.

The nights out on the town tapered off as the training regime increased for Munster and Ireland. Big sessions, he says, were reserved for trips away and for the evenings, and early-mornings, after matches.

“Win, lose or draw we all enjoyed a drink post-match. It was important for the team spirit.”

SportsJOE columnist David Wallace remembers hitting a pub in every town on the way from Limerick to Irish training camp in Wicklow. Claw was the designated driver. Wallace admits he could barely stand upon arriving at the team hotel, to which his former team-mate quips: “Wally did alright. He wasn’t long learning his trade”.

Clohessy had a scorching brush with death in 2002 when he was set ablaze out the back of the family farm. He was setting about disposing of rubbish by soaking it in petrol. The fumes were so stiff that he was engulfed in flames when he flicked his lighter, despite standing over 10 yards away from the rubbish pile. It was assumed his career was over and that he would require skin grafts. Clohessy enlisted his wife for holistic, healing treatments and made in back, four weeks later, for Munster’s semi-final win against Castres.

“There was no way I should have played but Anna did a great job. Once I knew there would be no grafts, I was bull-headed and set my sights on playing.”

Clohessy earned 54 caps with Ireland despite missing 26 weeks when he was banned for stamping on Olivier Roumat in the 1996 Six Nations.

“I was no angel on the field and did things that deserved suspensions but they cracked down on my very hard for that. The ban was out of proportion.”

Ireland team-mate Terry Kingston drafted a statement for Clohessy with a pen and paper when he discovered the severity of his ban, surrounded by Irish journalists, at Dublin Airport.

“It’s a good thing he did as I could’ve lost it and started fucking everybody out of it.”

Claw retired in 2002 and was heavily involved in a number of enterprises, including Clohessy’s Bar and The Sin Bin nightclub, which closed earlier this year.

“I’ve still got two premises and I’m kept busy with that,” he says.

Asked for his favourite rugby memory, his answer is somewhat surprising: “Winning the All-Ireland League with Young Munster in 1993. That was a damned hard league to win at the time. I lost a couple of Heineken Cups so the next best memory would have to be beating England back to back in 1993 and ’94.”

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