Former Leinster Rugby Team Manager, Ken Ging, was laid to rest earlier this week. 

In tribute, we asked former Leinster Rugby Head Coach, Matt Williams, for his reflections on Ken.

Ken Ging lived a life deeply immersed in rugby and humour.

Famously, Ken played in the game when Munster defeated the touring Wallabies in 1967. This was the first victory over an international touring team by any Irish province.

Ken would move on after his playing days to become a Leinster Rugby selector in the amateur era, President of his beloved Greystones Rugby Club and eventually Team Manager of Leinster in the first days of professionalism.

Gifted with an extroverted personality, blessed with the ability to make others laugh, a natural storyteller, raconteur and a brilliant after dinner speaker, “Ginger” as we all called him, was a man far larger than life itself.

It was during the 1999 Rugby World Cup that Ken and I first met.

My old friend Mike Ruddock was coach of Leinster at the time and had asked me if I could help out for six weeks as the backs coach across the Heineken Cup Pool stages campaign. I had just finished four years with the Waratahs in Super Rugby and I was feeling more than a little burned out, so at first, I hesitated.

I remember meeting Ken one morning to discuss the possibilities of coaching with Mike in what was then Leinster’s spiritual home and administrative hub, Kiely’s Pub in Donnybrook.

Ross O’Carroll-Kelly has always been telling the truth about Leinster and Kiely’s.

The place was a circus that the Leinster team used as a restaurant, cafe, office space, business meeting room and social venue. All conducted under one big top roof, with Ken Ging as its ringmaster.

Nothing happened in Donnybrook without Ginger’s knowledge.

Over several cups of coffee, which was to become a daily ritual between us, I laughed at all of Ken’s jokes as even his poor ones were good.

That day he reminded me for the first of thousands of times across our friendship, that he had played for Munster when they beat the Wallabies in 1967. That was to be Ken’s running gag with me.

We liked each other immediately and so I stayed. At the time I thought it was only for six weeks. I had not planned on staying 23 years, but Ginger could be persuasive.

‘Kenny’ took me under his wing and with his seemingly endless rugby network of contacts from electricians, to pension advisors and bank managers, in no time at all he had me and my family sorted.

Of course, there was a condition. I had to settle in what Ken told me was God’s country in Ireland, Greystones, County Wicklow.

While I was very grateful for his help, I was not a special case.

Every newcomer to the team had coffee with Ken and as if by a Harry Potter magic spell, he had their off-field life organised.

The early days of professional rugby in Leinster were not easy.

Moving the Leinster administrators from focusing on the AIL clubs to viewing Leinster as an independent club that required a huge influx of resources was a massive task that caused friction from some of the ‘old guard’ of administrators.

Treading this path took great political acumen and patience. Qualities that at the time I did not possess.

Ken’s long standing relationships and understanding of the system greased the political wheels of change that empowered that incredibly talented generation of Leinster players from the early 2000s, to begin their rise as they learned how to become professional rugby players.

Over the years I was privileged to be the head coach of Leinster Rugby, Kenny was not only by my side, he always had my back and that of every player on our team.

From the most talented of players like Brian O’Driscoll and Denis Hickie, to the youngest rookie, Ken surrounded us all with humour and joy.

One evening in the Bective changing room after Leinster had performed magnificently at Donnybrook the joy from the players and staff was bubbling in the atmosphere of a great win.

Yet, I saw Ken sitting in the corner with his head in his hands. For a moment I thought my old mate was ill. When I reached him and asked if he was OK, Ken looked up at me with tears streaming down his face.

He smiled and simply said, “That was a sensational win.”

Ken loved his Leinster players, the running attacking style that the team played and his role in supporting us all.

Kenny was also the greatest practical joker I have ever worked with.

He would often spend hours organising and setting up a ‘sting’, as he called them, on many unsuspecting victims. Often I was the brunt of Kens multi-faceted organised plans.

One morning when Leinster were playing Toulouse in France in 2002, Ken and I were having our morning organisation meeting over coffee in the foyer of the hotel at 7am.

Our meeting was interrupted by a heavily French accented voice calling out loudly, “Urgent message for a Mr Ging.”

Ginger looked at me with a shocked expression on his face.

“I am Mr Ging,” Kenny replied.

The hotel employee ran towards us, then stopped in his tracks a few metres away, with his mouth agape staring in awe at Ginger.

With horrible over acting he cried out, “Are you THE Mr Ging who played for Munster when they beat the Wallabies in 1967?”

Kenny looked at me feigning shock.

“Why, yes,” he replied with innocence, “however did you know that?”

All we could both do was laugh until the tears fell from our eyes. As they have done this week.

The losses have been great.

Rugby in Ireland has lost a soul mate.

Munster have lost a wonderful former player. Leinster have lost a long serving administrator whose wisdom guided some of the club’s greatest ever players in their developing days and helped lay the foundations for Leinster in the world of professional rugby.

The Leinster Rugby team from the early 2000s have lost not only a valued team member but a wonderful and much loved friend. The coaching staff from those days have lost a comrade and a great old mate.

All of that is nothing compared to the loss being felt by Ken’s cherished family. Many times Ken told me of his deep love for his two daughters, Debbie and Kim, and his beautiful grandchildren.

Today the planet is a much lesser place with Ken Ging no longer in our midst to make us smile and bring us joy.