Lions and Ireland hooker Ken Kennedy dies aged 81

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Lions and Ireland hooker Ken Kennedy dies aged 81

Tributes have been paid to “wonderful” two-time British & Irish Lions tourist and doctor Ken Kennedy following his death at the age of 81.

Kennedy was part of the 1966 Tour of Australia and New Zealand, and the invincible 1974 Tour of South Africa.

The hooker amassed 45 caps for Ireland and was highly regarded for his world class scrummaging ability.

Fellow Ireland and 1974 Lions tourist Stewart McKinney was among those to pay tribute to Kennedy, an orthopaedic surgeon whose patients included legendary Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.

“He was a wonderful man,” McKinney told the Belfast Telegraph.

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“I’ve spoken to Willie John (McBride), Syd Miller, Mike Gibson, so many of the great Lions, and they all said the same thing, that Ken never gets the credit he deserves.

“I remember when in Stranmillis College, and we’d hear about this mad Queen’s hooker who hung on the wall bars in the gym for hours at a time and who did yoga which nobody had heard of.

“It paid off because he was the most wonderful hooker, the best of our day.”

Kennedy was born in Rochester, England and studied medicine at Queen’s University in Belfast where he qualified to be a doctor.

Away from rugby, Kennedy continued to practice as a doctor in London while playing for London Irish.

Kennedy made his Test debut for Ireland in January 1965 against France at Lansdowne Road, a game that finished in a 3-3 draw.

The next year, the hooker was selected for the 1966 Tour, where he picked up four Test caps and scored a try in an 11-8 win over Australia at Sydney Cricket Ground.

Kennedy missed the 1968 Tour through injury but returned as part of the squad that famously went unbeaten in South Africa in 1974.

The front rower, who was recognised as an innovator in his position for his assured ball handling and positional awareness, also stepped in as unofficial medic on that Tour thanks to his medical degree.

“On the Lions Tour in 1974, we’d no team doctors,” McKinney remembered.

“But every morning he had a clinic and he’d be treating all the squad’s bumps and bruises.

“Before we even left London, he took all our blood and found a lot of us were deficient in iron which would have been really damaging at altitude.

“He didn’t get the credit he deserved on that tour.”

Kennedy’s final Ireland cap came in a 32-4 loss away in Wales in 1975, retiring at the time as the world’s most capped hooker after a decade stretch wearing the No.2 jersey for his country.

In addition to representing the Lions, Ireland and London Irish, Kennedy also turned out for Queen’s, the Barbarians and CIYMS, with many of his former clubs also paying tribute to the legendary player.

Dr Kennedy died peacefully in his sleep last Thursday while on holiday in Connemara. Kennedy is survived by his wife, Farida, and sons Patrick and Alexander.

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