Leigh Gerard Donnellan
loyal /ˈlɔɪəl/ adjective - giving or showing firm and constant support or allegiance to a person or institution. If rugby had a dictionary the definition of loyal could well be Leigh Donnellan. A big, lion-hearted, battle-hardened prop forward, Donnellan devoted his rugby career to the ACT’s Daramalan club, a devotion that arguably cost him the representative recognition he so truly deserved.
Donnellan played his first rugby for the Daramalan junior school U8s. He completed his schoolboy career with two years in the Daramalan College 1st XV. In 1976, Donnellan then joined the senior Daramalan club and played seven second grade games as a "rather slim and long-haired lock" before he won promotion to first grade. From that point in time, until retirement, Donnellan never relinquished his position in the top grade. Said to possess “hands like shovels”, Donnellan quickly forged a reputation with his presence in the tight exchanges where he scavenged “the ball from ruck and maul with an insatiable greed”. Unsurprisingly, he soon earned selection for the ACT U18s, 20s, 21s and 23s.
In 1979, Donnellan graduated to the ACT senior XV and a year after that earned his first representative start against international opposition, the 15-48 loss to New Zealand at Manuka. Donnellan rounded out that season with his second consecutive best and fairest award for Daramalan. Over the next three years Donnellan cemented his place in the ACT XV where he earned starts against France (L 7-50), Italy (W 19-18), Scotland (as captain; L 4-22), and Argentina (W 35-9). Incredibly, aside from an annual fixture against Sydney, the opportunity to play either of two domestic giants was largely denied the ACT. New South Wales didn’t face the ACT for 11 years (1976-86) while Queensland were not opposed for seven consecutive seasons (1980-86).
Nonetheless, an opportunity presented itself in early 1984 when Donnellan was selected for a Bob Dwyer Invitation XV against a Queanbeyan RUC Invitation XV. A week after that match, Donnellan was nominated by the ACT as one of ten “potential Australian players" at the request of John Bain, chairman of selectors for the Australian Rugby Union. The significance of the nomination cannot be understated given the Eighth Wallabies were scheduled to tour the U.K. at the end of that season. Unfortunately for Donnellan, Andy McIntyre, Enrique Rodriguez, Stan Pilecki and Cameron Lillicrap secured the four front-row positions and even when Lillicrap’s tour was ended against Combined Services, it was Gregg Burrow who came into the squad as the replacement. One silver lining from the year was Donnellan captaining Daramalan to the club’s first first-grade premiership victory.
Donnellan retired from representative rugby at the end of the 1988 season. Fortunately, that proved to be a short-lived decision, one that ultimately paved the way for his Wallaby selection. He was picked to face the British & Irish Lions at Seiffert Oval where the ACT “played a magnificent first 25 minutes to lead 18-4. The forwards were driving with power and precision, swamping the bigger, heavier and vastly more experienced Lions pack.” Despite the final 25-41 final score, Donnellan clearly impressed. Immediately after the match, he left for Brisbane to take his place as an Australian reserve for the second Test. Unfortunately, both Mark Hartill and Dan Crowley remained on the field for both that match and the deciding fixture in Sydney a week later where Donnellan was retained in the match day squad. Then, without rhyme or reason, the Australian selectors chose Tony Daly, a player with not one single representative match to his name, for the subsequent tour to New Zealand. ACT chairman of selectors Bryan Lenthall didn’t hold back: "I have had some major disappointments regarding Australian selections during the year. In the end, I don't think they got it right. This year has been little more than a litany of organisational disasters. At the parochial level, the strange selection processes affected ACT players. For Leigh Donnellan it was demeaning and belittling."
Two years later Donnellan retired from all forms of the game after a record 254 first grade games for Daramalan. He later coached Daramalan’s lower grade and junior sides
1989 Unused replacement for both the second and third Tests against the British Isles