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Stephen Moore : heart of gold but with a tinge of green

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Qantas Wallabies hooker Stephen Moore may be wearing gold this weekend (Sunday morning 4.45am AEDT) when Australia run out to face Ireland in the Lansdowne Cup Test, but he has a little bit of Irish blood running through his veins.

The 30-year-old, 88 Test veteran has Irish parents, an Irish passport, a cousin who plays International Rules for Ireland, and will always have a soft spot for the place where he was raised.

But despite his strong Irish connections the Emerald Isle has been a barren spot for positive results for Moore.

Indeed in three tours to Ireland to date his best was the last-gasp 20-20 draw at Croke Park that ended the Wallabies' hopes of a 2009 Grand Slam.

He didn’t play in the 2005 Test when Australia lost 30-16, then the next year the Wallabies were well beaten 21-6 as Ireland and Ronan O’Gara taught the Men of Gold a harsh lesson in wet-weather Rugby.

"It hasn't been great," Moore acknowledges. "Hopefully that will change this weekend. It's always a special week, very much so, particularly over here. There's always lots of people to catch up with and find tickets for. My dad's from Galway and my mum from Mayo, so there's always a lot of talk about their football team, too."

Among those relatives is cousin Paddy O'Rourke, a Gaelic Football star who played goalkeeper for Ireland in the recent International Rules series against Australia's Indigenous AFL team.

Moore know O’Rourke well as it was the Gaelic Football star who showed him around Croke Park, the spiritual home of Gaelic Football, before the 2009 Test when a memorable victory was snatched away by Brian O'Driscoll's last-minute try.

Although he grew up in Ireland, Moore was actually born in Kamis in Saudi Arabia, with his parents returning to Salthill, just outside Galway, when he was a baby. He remained in Ireland for his first five years before the family moved on to Brisbane.

Indeed Moore faced a tricky decision when he was 19 as word of his ability had already begun to spread to Ireland and he was offered the chance to play for Ireland, who he qualifies for through his parents.

"There was a bit of interest there, obviously with my background, but I think at the time my head was spinning about everything," he explains.

"When it came down to it, it wasn't a difficult decision. I had always grown up following Australia and wanting to play for the Wallabies."

Despite that he freely admits that his idol growing up was Keith Wood, the famed Irish hooker.

“My father loves Keith Wood”, smiles Moore. “We used to get VHS games sent over from Ireland of his matches. That was where I first saw him play.”

But to see him play in person was another thing entirely.

It was back in 2001 and a wide-eyed 18-year-old Moore went along to watch the 1st Test between the Lions and the Wallabies at the Gabba. His father was supporting the Lions while Moore, very quietly, was behind the Wallabies.

“The energy he (Wood) played with was incredible”, recalls Moore. “He was strong in the set piece but he would also turn up anywhere on the ground, and he had such a wide range of skills.

“For a young hooker he was a good guy to watch. I modeled my game on him early in my career. He and (former Wallabies hooker) Jeremy Paul have been my role models.”

Eight years later, in 2009, Moore got the chance to meet his Irish role model in person.

“I met Keith in London and had lunch at his house. I was on tour with the Wallabies and my uncle who knows him set it up.”

Every young hooker in the world wishes they could have been present at that table, listening to two of the world’s great No.2s swapping stories, the tricks of the trade.

Since his Test debut against Samoa in June 2005 Moore has been an ironman for the Wallabies, especially this where has played more minutes than any other player and rarely getting an early shower.

Last weekend in Turin against Italy he was voted the players' player - Man Of Gold – but the Wallabies again need him at his best to tame the rugged Ireland pack, with a strong contingent of Lions.

"It's going to be a tight contest in terms of close-quarters rugby and set-piece contests," said Moore, already looking forward to the challenge.

The Qantas Wallabies play Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin this Sunday morning November 17th (4.45am AEDT). All Qantas Wallabies 2013 Spring Tour matches are broadcast live on Fox Sports and Channel Ten.

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