Danno Heaslip - a man who left nothing on the pitch

Danno Heaslip of "Friends of Connacht" and Michael Farrell deliver documents to the IRFU Headquarters, Lansdowne Road in opposition to plans to dissolve Connacht's pro team. Picture : Damien Eagers / SPORTSFILE

Danno Heaslip of "Friends of Connacht" and Michael Farrell deliver documents to the IRFU Headquarters, Lansdowne Road in opposition to plans to dissolve Connacht's pro team. Picture : Damien Eagers / SPORTSFILE

Linley MacKenzie

A true blue Galwegian. Captain, president, and winner of nine Connacht Cup medals with Galwegians Rugby Club - Danno Heaslip was an iconic figure within the city club .

The measure of affection and respect shown following Danno's recent passing after a long illness has understandably prompted an outpouring of sympathy and tributes. But it is not just for his for rugby prowess, but for Danno the man - or as many have affectionately dubbed him, the Duracell bunny - the auctioneer, the Cheltenham race winner, the volunteer, the sponsor, the fundraiser, the sports fan, golfer, fisherman, the gentleman, son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, and friend.

Danno (Francis Brendan ) always made an impression, and like his older brother Michael, who passed away two years ago, he was full of energy and passion, content to be behind the scenes, and more than comfortable in front.

His rugby career which began in Crescent College, included time with London Irish, and he toured with the Public School Wanderers in England before returning to his home club Galwegians where he had received his first senior cap at age 15. A scrumhalf, Danno played with Connacht for four years, and won nine Senior Cup Medals with Galwegians - his family often joke that the number could swell to 14 depending on to whom he was talking.

Horse racing was of course another huge love for the family, and it was as winner of the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle in 1982 that was Danno's crowning glory. The unfancied For Auction came in 40-1 and he often laughed afterwards how the odds could have been so great when every person he met for the next thirty years said they had backed his horse.

End of an era

Danno was a man who did not believe in half measures. Everything he did was given 100 per cent, and one of those recipients was his beloved Galwegians. Captain in the sixties, he also served twice as president.

Current vice-chairperson Carl Blake says he epitomised the true club man.

"It is the end of an era. He gave such incredible service to our club in so many capacities for something like 60 years. Both on and off the pitch, he was one of a kind.

"Galwegians was part of his extended family. Even if not holding office, Danno was centre stage. He could be on the PA, he was a fundraiser, and with brother Mickey, the amount of money they raised kept our club alive.

"He was larger than life. There was nothing he would not turn his hand to - a real clubman. His legacy remains and the family link remains with his sons, Simon who was recently our chairman for many years, and James, who is our director of football."

On the field Danno played till he was 39 - his only regret not getting an Irish cap.

He was, of course, a sports mad fan - and also a single handicap golfer. He loved attending matches whether in Glenina, the Sportsground, Lansdowne Road, or Croke Park, and if anyone ever needed a ticket, Danno was your man.

His family also laughed that no matter what game, Danno would look after his friends with tickets. One of those was former Galwegian and Connacht coach Warren Gatland. He was coaching Ireland at the time, but it was Danno he rang to see if he could procure some tickets to the Ireland game for some of his friends.

Charity work

Danno's passion for rugby and the west of Ireland was epitomised in his opposition to halt the IRFU's plan to cut Connacht's professional team in 2003. He led the supporters' charge with the Friends of Connacht following a rousing meeting in Galway. The march of 2,000 to Lansdowne Road was led by Danno who presented a letter of protest to headquarters.

Current Connacht Branch president, Ann Heneghan, says Danno played his role in turning the IRFU's decision.

"At the time when Connacht were under threat of disbandment, Danno was an integral part of our committee and the one selected to hand in our letter of protest to the IRFU on the day.

"I was very saddened to hear of Danno’s passing. He was a dedicated rugby man, both with his club Galwegians and Connacht. He was a regular visitor to the Sportsground to cheer Connacht on and he will be missed in rugby circles."

Outside sport, Danno was involved in charity work, notably as a founder member and chairperson of the Galway branch of the Cancer Society - then Conquer Cancer - and was also a founding member of the Progressive Democrats. He was also Galway's most prominent auctioneer - the "father' of several well known auctioneers today who kicked off their careers under his tutelage, including Colm O'Donnellan.

O'Donnellan says he was lucky to have worked for him for three years.

"He gave me my start he was small in stature, but a giant among men. I was lucky to watch him in action. No matter who came in the door, he treated everyone the same," he says.

That included the rich and famous, including Sting to whom he sold a house in Roundstone.

But at the heart of his work and his rugby was always his family - his wife Mary, children Simon, Justine, James, and Mary Kate, and his large extended family.

A man who he left nothing behind him on the pitch. That was his motto, and that epitomised Danno's life.

 

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