The rugby community in Ireland was struck by the news that Paul Darbyshire passed away in the early hours of Monday morning, 20 June. Munster’s head of strength and conditioning was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in September last year, and died peacefully in his sleep, aged 41.
The news came as players and supporters from all four Irish provinces were embarking on the second day of a cycle ride to raise money for the Darbyshire family and research into the illness. The route covers over 270 miles, and started at Musgrave Park, Cork on Sunday, and will finish in Darbyshire’s home town of Warrington, near Liverpool, on Thursday. Every member of the Munster squad has been involved in the event whether taking part in the cycling or pitching up for the craic and to lend a hand, in support of an integral member of their team.
Donncha O’Callaghan was just one player turning out for the second leg of the journey, cycling the 46 miles from Thomond Park to Roscrea RFC. Speaking to Rugby World in May, O’Callaghan said: “The initial shock when we heard the news of his diagnosis was frightening for us because Darbs around our squad is like Superman. He brought an unbelievable professionalism to us, and the mindset that your body could do anything and would never fail.”
Darbyshire maintained his involvement with the Munster squad and was present at the team’s home games throughout the season, despite his illness. He also had a hand in devising the cycle ride, no easy journey, just like his training sessions!
Darbyshire played rugby league for Warrington Wolves, and stayed with the club in a coaching capacity after his retirement in 1997, before committing to Munster 10 years later. Darbyshire was a popular member of every team he was part of, and a tribute will be made at the Wolves’ game against St Helens on Friday.
It’s not just rugby’s stars who have been touched by Darbyshire’s story, and members of the hurling, football and cycling communities from all the provinces have clubbed together to lend their support.
O’Callaghan continued: “When it comes to sport some things are put into perspective and the whole sporting community comes together, which is only right. This crosses over both codes because Darbs has some massive friends in Warrington, and for both codes to come together is a great idea.
“It’s incredibly sad, especially for such a great fella, a great friend who was great at his job. All our first thoughts were for Darbs and his beautiful family, his four kids and his lovely wife Lyndsay. It’s going to be a massive loss for us in terms of our coach, but the hole that’s going to be left by his friendship is the thing that you’ll never be able to put into words.”
The cyclists are travelling from Portlaoise RFC to Maynooth, and will finish the Irish stage of the journey at Trinity College, Dublin on Tuesday before it heads to Warrington via Colwyn Bay on Wednesday and Thursday. Why not take part, or go and cheer the team on their way? Click here for more details and to find out how to donate.