Saturday will see many of the Premiership’s most-loved sons run out for the final time, but not many of them will be creaking as much as one Robert Casey. Affectionately known throughout the Rugby universe as Bob, Casey’s career in his final playing years may have been more stuttered, but the influence and admiration he is held in by not just London Irish but the entire rugby world speaks volumes of his character.
In front of his immediate and rugby families this weekend, Casey will start and captain London Irish against Gloucester in his 235th game for the club. Playing for little more than pride, Irish’s season has been a major disappointment. As a whole host of their players depart this summer – Armitage, Kennedy, Hodgson and Casey have all been at Irish for 8 years or longer – the second row is more than aware that this weekend will mark the end of an era.
“It’s about leaving a good lasting impression. The boys will come back at the start of next season and it’ll be a brand new era. I’m delighted with the era I was involved in so there are no regrets on my part. We took the club to new heights.”
Those new heights included playing an expansive brand of rugby that won over neutrals and saw crowds swell at the Madejski Stadium, along with making the Heineken Cup semi-final in 2008 and the Premiership final in 2009. The 9-10 defeat to Leicester Tigers still lingers on Casey’s mind, but there is no bitterness or resentment, just an acknowledgment that on their day Irish could not have given anymore.
“I try not to look back on it too much. We gave it everything and ran Leicester very close, and part of you will always wonder about what might have been, but life goes on. We didn’t win and that’s that.”
Moving on from his playing days, Casey will take up a job with London Irish’s main sponsor Powerday whilst continuing in an ambassadorial role with the club on matchdays. Before that comes a wedding and honeymoon, then two more knee operations. Players put their bodies on the line every week to play professional rugby, but Casey has truly sacrificed his knees. With a total of 12 operations racked up so far, the next two will postpone him requiring knee replacements until he reaches 45-50.
“I had the first operation at 16 and the specialist back in Ireland said that if I played until 27-28, I’d have had a fantastic career. I’m 33 now and the fact that I’ll be playing on Saturday goes to show how I’ve been so well looked after at London Irish by physios and strength and conditioning coaches, along with the best knee surgeons around.”
It has been 10 years since Casey arrived from Leinster and made his debut against Bath. When he looks back, it’s no particular game or one of his six tries that he will cherish, but the great number of friends he has made along the way. “There’s too many highlights to remember, but it’s more about the guys who you’ve spent time with over the years and who have become your closest friends. Whatever happens, London Irish will always be a part of my life.” As one of the club’s legends, Casey will forever be part of the Exiles history.
by Ben Coles