Tributes have been flooding in for former Te Awamutu court registrar and St Pat's rugby legend Robin O'Neill, who passed away at Elmswood Hospital in Christchurch, surrounded by family, aged 82 on September 11.
St Pat's teammate Peter Hollinshead said Robin O'Neill was held in high regard throughout the country as a great rugby player, a real good coach and a great bloke.
"Robin took St Pat's to a new level when he arrived on the scene in 1966, taking over the captaincy and coaching roles of a side that had won the Phoenix Cup (Te Awamutu and Cambridge championship) and local championship in 1965 under the astute coaching of the late Keith Tickelpenny.
"He was such a tough task master.
"I well remember one of our torrid training sessions on Albert Park No 3 field not finishing until around 10.30pm. Robin was such a perfectionist, he wouldn't let us go back into the shed until the forwards had taken the ball up and it was swung right through the backline without a blemish."
O'Neill quickly became a household name in Te Awamutu. The St Pat's senior team of 1966 benefited greatly from his presence and coaching, captaining them to joint winners (with Kereone) of the inaugural Waikato Union-wide club competition for the Waikato Breweries Shield.
St Pat's finished the season with the remarkable record of games played 22, won 20, drew two, lost nil, points for 384, points against 83, scoring 74 tries, 23 conversions, 20 penalties and 12 dropped goals. O'Neill scored six of the tries and three dropped goals.
Hollinshead recalls it took a Darryl Innes dropped goal for St Pat's to draw 14-all with Kereone in the Waikato Breweries Shield final.
Both teams had class all over the paddock.
St Pat's had a string of players with first class experience, including Bill Birtwistle with 11 tries in 12 appearances for the All Blacks, including seven tests.
Number eight O'Neill, backs Hollinshead, Innes, Alan Keily, Andy Bell and forwards John Turney and Keith Tickelpenny all played for Waikato, while O'Neill and winger Barry McTamney represented Wairarapa Bush, O'Neill and Innes were selected for New Zealand Marist and O'Neill played for Harlequins. The Baker brothers, Doug, Dave, Eddie and Errol all played for Waikato Maori.
The star-studded Kereone side was coached by 'The Boot' All Black fullback Don Clarke and included three of his brothers, locks Brian and Graham, and first five Doug.
The St Pat's team of 1967, coached by O'Neill, also enjoyed a memorable season, winning the New Zealand Marist Spillane Cup Tournament, Phoenix Cup, Te Awamutu club competition and placed fourth in the Waikato first division club competition.
O'Neill was also at the helm of the Te Awamutu Sub Union representative team selected by the late Guru Singh that uplifted the Peace Cup off South Waikato in 1967 and repulsed several tough challengers that came along before the end of the season over Otorohanga, Paeroa, Cambridge, Morrinsville and Maniapoto.
Te Awamutu pipped Sir Colin Meads' King Country rep-laden Maniapoto side with an extraordinary late long-range solo Bill Birtwistle try between the posts in an epic encounter at Albert Park.
Hollinshead said it was like playing King Country in those days. Maniapoto had around 12 King Country reps, including Colin and Stan Meads, and Te Awamutu has never had so many Waikato representatives.
"It was the toughest games any of our players ever played in. Our pack was much smaller than theirs. I will never forget that day our forwards (Robin O'Neill, Link Quarrie, Graham 'Gumpy' Kay, Keith Tickelpenny, John Turney, Eddie Baker, Hec Martin, Dave Baker, Mike Daly) locked horns with those greats."
Stan Meads said his Maniapoto team went to Albert Park all guns blazing and came away with their tail between their legs.
"I didn't know Robin O'Neil that well but he impressed me as being a good leader and a good guy," said Meads.
"Robin was also a fine player who should have featured in more than a handful of games for Waikato."
O'Neill gained a late call-up to the Waikato side in 1967 after the province had lost its opening three national championship games.
He went on to make six appearances for the Mooloos, ending up at fullback (a position he had occupied early in his career) in his last game against Auckland at Eden Park, due to injuries.
He was named to play against North Auckland the following weekend but injury ruled him out.
"It was a shame. Had he played against the Taniwha, he would have finished his first class career having played against every union in New Zealand.
One of O'Neill's four sons - he also has a daughter, Jacqueline - Daniel said his father had many fond memories of his rugby playing days.
Other highlights included coaching and managing the Hamilton Marist side that became the first New Zealand rugby team to tour Argentina in 1973; playing well in excess of 50 games for Manawatu between 1961 and 1965; captaining Manawatu-Horowhenua against South Africa in 1965, obtaining a much cherished Springboks jersey; playing in an epic Manawatu Ranfurly Shield challenge against Taranaki in 1964, losing 6-3, and coaching all four of his sons, Simon, Damian, Brendan and Daniel to championships at College 1st XV and age group level in the Manawatu.