At least 13 members of Hawke's Bay's famed 1990s Ranfurly Shield rugby squads were back in Napier for the funeral of integral teammate Gary Condon, who died last Tuesday, aged 73.
Mainly a flanker, who arrived from Palmerston North as a policeman in 1965, Condon was a fringe player in 1966 and was a reserve the day the Magpies lifted the shield with a 6-0 victory over Waikato, but he played in all but one of the 22 defences, which ended with the loss of the shield to Canterbury in 1969.
First playing in Hawke's Bay for Colenso Pirate before being lured across McLean Park to Marist, he played 65 matches for Hawke's Bay, one of the last two being against the 1971 British Lions.
He also played all three matches on a New Zealand Combined Services tour of the top of the South Island in 1966, and the next year he earned a New Zealand Under 23 trial.
In 1968 he scored tries in shield match wins over East Coast and Counties, as well as in a 12-16 loss to France, but he was seen as the maker of many others, securing the ball from which so many were scored, and three years ago he was in ducted as a Legend of Hawke's Bay Rugby.
Ian MacRae, an All Blacks centre from 1963 to 1970 who scored 10 tries for Hawke's Bay in shield matches and became Hawke's Bay union chairman and New Zealand union president, yesterday said Condon had a particular skill chasing and retrieving the ball from kick-offs, heading off outside the sideline to avoid running down anyone who got in his way.
Teammate Blair Furlong, who became an HB union president, delivered one eulogy, with widow Rosemarie Condon and other family including young grandchildren also speaking at the gathering at Dunstall Chapel, a few hundred metres from where the shield defences were played at McLean Park, and on a Saturday afternoon, the usual time-slot of the matches half-a-century ago.
Retired police Detective Sergeant Rick Graham spoke of the 40 years Condon spent as a police officer before retiring in 2005.
Furlong said it was a remarkable effort for Condon to play so many of the shield defences, when the Magpies had significant stocks of loose forwards including famed All Black Kel Tremain.
It was well-earned for he was a "mad trainer", who would usually be first to the top of the legendary day-after squad runs over the hills of Taradale ordered by coach Colin Le Quesne.