Next up in our series of interviews with London Irish legends is Kieron Dawson, a flanker from Northern Ireland who had a 10-year association with London Irish, making 200 appearances. Dawson was the club’s player of the year in the 2000/01 season, London Irish’s first season at the Madejski Stadium, and was a part of the team that won the 2002 Powergen Cup final at Twickenham.
He is now living in Brighton and coaching Brighton College First XV, having moved to the South Coast after retiring from rugby in 2009 after three years with his hometown club, Ulster.
The Avenue in Sunbury first hosted London Irish home fixtures during the Irishman’s first years with the club and playing at the Madejski Stadium was stark contrast to the days at The Avenue.
“The move to the Madejski saw us playing in front of big crowds, which was great and playing in a football stadium for the first time was a novelty, especially coming from playing at the Avenue!”
The 2002/03 Bristol fixture, which ended up being a relegation play-off is one that immediately springs to mind when talking to Kieron.
“Whichever team lost that day was going to be relegated. We started terribly and were 10-0 down after 10 minutes starring down the barrel. But we came good and ended up coming back and winning the game.”
A match that was crucial in the context of the club’s history, but Dawson’s most amusing memory took place against Newcastle Falcons.
“It was certainly one of my funniest memories, and it was bizarre because I cannot remember too much of the game, but I recall the first few minutes” said Dawson.
“We were playing Newcastle Falcons and Gary Gold, our head coach, had highlighted before the game Epi Taione for the kick-off, because he had notoriously not been great at taking kick-offs. So, we were going to kick the ball to him. I was given the job of tackling him along with Justin Bishop and Rob Hoadley. It was a three-pronged attack to get Epi as we thought he was bound to spill it and if the ball went loose, we could get on the ball.
“As we were standing to chase the kick-off, I said to Barry Everitt ‘make sure you don’t shank this kick’. It was pouring with rain and the ball wouldn’t bounce in the centre circle! Barry kicked-off, shanked it and it skidded straight into Epi Taoine’s hands. For supporters reading this not knowing who Epi Taione is, he’s an 18 stone Tongan who was very quick. He had a 20-metre run up and I could see out of my peripherals Justin Bishop on the left and Rob Hoadley on the right just disappear. I was left and Epi ran straight over me, knocked me out cold and run about 60 metres upfield before getting tackled. I had to go off after trying to soldier on for a few minutes. I frequently remind Bish and Rob of this. It is a memory I will always hold from playing at the Madejski.”
One of the best things about playing in a team environment for so long is the friendships that are forged with the peers you go to battle with. A lot of the players that Dawson shared the field with, he is still on contact with today.
“We still have a WhatsApp group with a few of the lads which is a great way to stay in touch. James Cockle, who I played with for a few years, is another I still see a lot of.”
Leaving London Irish in the knowledge that Kennedy, Armitage, Ojo and co were taking over the mantle, left Dawson comfortable in the fact that London Irish would push on with the next generation of players.
“Overall it was great and for me and the fact that the club has produced so many players is the best thing. When I came to the end of my career the Armitage brothers, Topsy and Nick Kennedy took over, the changing of the guard as it were. I hope the club can get back to the heights it once was at in the future years.”