Club Member Series: #1 - Gerry Craig (aka “Irish”)

This is the first of an occasional series about club members. told by Gerry to Ian Ray along with a few of the author’s observations.

Gerry arrived in Mentone to live with his parents and siblings in the summer of 1974. He was 17 years old. I say arrived to live with his family because they arrived 3 years earlier to escape from “the troubles” in Northern Ireland. They had lived in Ulster and Mum and Dad decided to move to Australia with the family in 1971 so that the children could have a better life away from “the troubles” that were filling our nightly TV news services.

However, Gerry had a girlfriend and despite his mother’s protestations he managed to stay with her family in Ulster. He had left school at 15 and went to work in an insurance brokers office.

Life in Ulster was reasonable for children but it was less than perfect. There were always police and military presence in the area and they made their presence known often. One day, Gerry and his brothers were walking home from school they were pulled up by the police and one of his younger brothers, who was a bit of a smart-arse, made a quip to the police who then laid into them. Yes, less than perfect you might say.

Rugby was important to Gerry, he played at school during the week and then for the school Old Boys, playing for the juniors in the morning and seniors in the afternoon. But, after 3 years Gerry decided that he’d head to Australia to be with his family, his girlfriend didn’t want to go with him. Little did she know what she’d be missing out on……..many winters standing on the sideline like all the other rugby girlfriends did!!!

Gerry’s father was a motor mechanic and knowing the Gerry was coming to Melbourne he asked a friend about rugby clubs in Melbourne, the friend pointed him towards Moorabbin. He called the number for the club to inquire on his son’s behalf. Dad was told that the Club Captain would come down to meet him and take him to practice the next Tuesday evening. This was duly related to Gerry who was impressed that the club would send the Club Captain to pick him up.

At the duly appointed time Gerry was waiting by the front door. He was expecting a grey haired gentleman in a reefer jacket with leather patches on the arms and sporting a white shirt and club tie. This after all was what a Club Captain wore.

An old poo brown Datsun 1000 cruised slowly down the street and pulled up just past the house, out got a bloke who jumped over the low front fence and headed to the front door. Wearing a bushy beard, scraggly hair, Stubby shorts and a tatty t-shirt with a pair of thongs on his feet the bloke knocked on the front door.

Clearly, thought Gerry, this wasn’t the Club Captain but the gardener that his father was expecting. He called to his father and told him that the gardener had arrived as he went to open the door. Gerry opened the door and said to me “Sorry, I can’t speak to you now I am waiting for the Club Captain”.

“I am the Club Captain”, I said as I introduced myself.

Gerry was taken aback but scrambled to get his kit bag and head off to training with me.

1974 Moorabbin Rams 1st Grade
1974 Moorabbin Rams 1st Grade
Click HERE for a larger version

He managed to get his first job in Australia though a club member (Dave Crowther) erecting fences. He felt that it was too hard and after a few months went back to insurance for a breather until he found something that he’d find interesting.

He settled into tight head prop in the First Grade team. We played in the 2nd Division Grand Final and lost to Combined Services. Both Clubs were promoted to First Division in 1975 and Gerry was a fixture in the front row for the next 8 years.

Gerry was one pillar of the famed Moorabbin front row, along with Ron Pearce. They took us up through the league table to our first Premier Division Premiership in 1978, runners up in 79 then winning in 81 through to 86.

1978 1st Grade Premiers
Click HERE for a larger version

Gerry finished in First Grade after the 1982 Premiership with crook legs after 9 years of front row scrumming. He toured New Zealand on a pre-season tour in 1982 and played in all 5 matches. He briefly left the tour with Murray Martin to visit Murray’s hometown of Tokaroa, a little to the west of Rotorua. This may have included a sleepover in a gents toilet,but then again maybe that is just an urban "Tour" myth! His elder sister Eileen met him in Rotorua on the tour and saw the first and only game of rugby that her brother played.

Most nights after training he was allowed to join Ron Pearce in Ronnie’s corner of the bar to discuss the finer points of front row play over several quiet beers. On one of these nights I asked Gerry about living in Ulster during ‘the troubles” he replied that it wasn’t all that bad because he’d “play with a catholic in his team”. In this answer I finally understood the Irish question; I would have no idea of my teammates religion nor would it have even entered my head to think about it.

1979 1st Grade Front Row
Click HERE for a larger version

Front Row - Gerry Craig (TH) , Lindsay Perry (H), Ron Pearce (LH), Mike Budd (Lock behind Gerry), Paddy Morgan (Lock behind Ron).
Far left, looking away Brian Tunnicliffe (Halfback), Right hand side with mouthguard in hand Ian Ray (Flanker). This is the photo in the club on the left of the bar in "Ron’s Corner.

Gerry never did find another industry to work in and he spent his entire working life in insurance; Public Liability Insurance to be specific. In the halcyon days of the 80's the insurance industry had many long lunches and as a consequence he was frequently forced to lunch at the Fairystork in South Melbourne often not leaving there until late in the evening to head for Flinders St. Station and home. He has confessed that on several occasions he had fallen asleep on the train and found himself in Frankston and had to ride the train back up the line to Moorabbin and finally home. There may have been at least one occasion when he found himself in the stabling yard at Frankston after the last train too.

In 1985 he pulled on his boots to go on the London Golden Oldies World Rugby Tournament with the Moorabbin Maulers (more on this tour at a later date).

Gerry Craig, Laurie Sullivan and John Jones, Ireland in 1985Gerry Craig, Laurie Sullivan and John Jones, Ireland in 1985
Click HERE for a larger version

Gerry says that the meeting at his front door in 1974 was the start of many years of life long friendships for a young bloke from Ulster

Ian Ray
(former Datsun Driver and Club Captain)

Gerry and Pam holidaying in Qld
Gerry and Pam holidaying in Queensland
Click HERE for a larger version