IRB Hall of Fame – Induction No.16 – Sir Anthony ‘Tony’ John Francis O'Reilly AO (1936-), Ireland and the Lions

Personal details

– Born: 7 May, 1936 in Dublin, Republic of Ireland
– Family: The only son of John O’Reilly and Aileen O’Connor. Married Susan M. Cameron in 1962 and had six children, three sons and three daughters, before divorcing in 1989. Now married to Chryss Goulandris.
– Education: Belvedere College, University College Dublin (Law degree) and University of Bradford (PhD in farming).
– Other sports: proficient at tennis, cricket and football, he played for the Dublin-based junior soccer club Home Farm.

Professional career

– Management consultant with Weston Evans in Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire, England, he then worked for Sutton’s of Cork.
– He then joined the Irish Dairy Board as General Manager in 1962, after which he became Managing Director of the Irish Sugar Company.
– Joined Heinz as Managing Director of the UK subsidiary in 1969, becoming CEO of Heinz in 1973 and Chairman in 1987.
– Other major business interests include Waterford Wedgwood, Independent News and Media, Fitzwilton, Providence Resource Plc, Lockwood Financial Partners and EMAT.  

Rugby career

– Began playing rugby at Belvedere College, where he was coached by, among others, Karl Mullen.
– He played for Old Belvedere RFC and captained the club to the Leinster Cup final in 1953/54. He also played for Leicester and Dolphin RFC during his stay in Leicestershire and Cork respectively.
– He played for Leinster 11 times between 1956 and 1968, including against Australia in 1957 and South Africa in 1961.
– He played a record 30 matches for the Barbarians between April 1955, when he was selected against Cardiff, and 1963 against Swansea.
– Made his Ireland debut against France on 22 January, 1955, four months short of his 19th birthday.
– He played a total of 29 tests for Ireland, the first 28 between 1955 and 1963 and the 29th and last against England in February 1970.
– While still a teenager he celebrated his Lions debut with two tries against Transvaal Universities on 29 June, 1955.
– On this 1955 tour to South Africa he scored 16 tries in 15 matches, adding a further 22 tries in 24 matches in Australia and New Zealand in 1959.
– He made 38 appearances for the Lions – a record 37 on the wing – with 15 in South Africa in 1955 and 23 on the 1959 tour of Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Career highlights

– In February 1970, after an absence of six years from the Irish team, he was recalled for one match against England, which expanded his Five Nations career span from nine to a record 16 years.
– He scored a record 37 tries during his two Lions tours, which according to him was due to the type of running rugby played by the Lions.
– He scored an unbeaten Lions record of six test tries against Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
– His record 18 tries scored in New Zealand beat Peter Jackson with 17 into the second place.
– During his nine years with the Barbarians he scored a club record of 38 tries.

Ireland Career summary

Against Matches Tries Cons Pens DGs Points Won Drawn Lost
Wales 6 1 0 0 0 3 2 0 4
England 8 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 6
Scotland 6 1 0 0 0 3 4 0 2
Australia 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
South Africa 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
France 7 2 0 0 0 6 2 0 5
Total 29 4 0 0 0 12 10 1 18


British and Irish Lions all-time matches

The 1955 tour of South Africa

29/06/1955 v Transvaal Universities
02/07/1955 v Orange Free State
05/07/1955 v South West Africa
09/07/1955 v Western Province
16/07/1955 v Eastern Province
20/07/1955 v North Eastern Districts
23/07/1955 v Transvaal
30/07/1955 v Rhodesia
06/08/1955 v South Africa
13/08/1955 v Boland Kavaliers
20/08/1955 v South Africa
27/08/1955 v Northern Transvaal
03/09/1955 v South Africa
14/09/1955 v Junior Springboks
24/09/1955 v South Africa

The 1959 tour of Australia, New Zealand and Canada

02/06/1959 v Queensland
06/06/1959 v Australia
09/06/1959 v New South Wales Country
13/06/1959 v Australia
24/06/1959 v Poverty Bay / East Coast
27/06/1959 v Auckland
01/07/1959 v New Zealand Universities
04/07/1959 v Otago
08/07/1959 v South Canterbury / Mid Canterbury / North Otago
18/07/1959 v New Zealand
25/07/1959 v Canterbury
05/08/1959 v Wanganui
11/08/1959 v Manawatu / Horowhenua
15/08/1959 v New Zealand
19/08/1959 v King Country / Counties
25/08/1959 v Wairarapa / Bush
29/08/1959 v New Zealand
02/09/1959 v New Zealand Juniors
05/09/1959 v New Zealand Maoris
12/09/1959 v North Auckland
19/09/1959 v New Zealand
26/09/1959 v British Columbia
29/09/1959 v East Canada

British and Irish Lions test summary

Caps: 10
Points: 18
Tries: 6

Awards and distinctions

– Honorary Doctorate in Law from Trinity College, Dublin.
– Appointed Honorary officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1988.
– Knighted as Knight Bachelor for services to Northern Ireland in 2001.
– Voted “Media Person of the Year” at the International Advertising Festival Cannes 2000.

What they said about him

Sean Diffley (rugby writer): “O’Reilly gained his 28th cap in 1963 and then suffered a spate of injuries, disconcerting international business disruptions and was the victim of some eccentric selection committees. There is no doubt that he should have been chosen more often after 1963, but one felt that some selectors were more intent on displaying their total independence by leaving O’Reilly off the teams ... there was a suspicion that some selectors were more concerned to show how little impressed they were rather than judge the player on his merits as a player. Thus Tony O’Reilly was a figure of some controversy in those days.”

John Scally (author): “There are good public speakers, there are great public speakers and there is Tony O’Reilly. Watching him in action it is difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the sheer weight of his personality.”

Cliff Morgan (former Wales international and member of the IRB Hall of Fame): “It’s funny, as captain you wanted the best out of everybody, and I knew that Tony would play better on the left wing. I had great admiration for him since, even at that age, he had all the classic virtues – body turned slightly away from the tackler, knees and legs high as he runs, tremendous courage. The Irish tend to say, ‘ah, lucky fellow. Everything’s lucky in Ireland’. But there was nothing lucky about Tony’s life. He was already 25 years older upstairs in his mind than anybody I’d known.”

Edmund van Esbeck (rugby writer): “O’Reilly was to have a long career, but it was in the Lions jersey rather than the Irish that he really made a profound impact.”

A.C.Parker (writer, on the 1955 tour to South Africa): “Nicknamed ‘O’Tony’, this red-haired articled solicitor’s clerk who turned 19 on the tour was a tremendous success, setting a record by scoring 16 tries (in as many matches). Surprisingly mature and intelligent for his years, he stood up to the adulation of South Africa’s bobby-soxers with remarkable poise and good sense.”

*Profile correct at time of induction