John O’Grady isn’t your typical head coach. At 75, he continues to lead training at Oldham RUFC twice a week as well as on match days and in the last season has overseen the club’s rise to the top of the North Lancashire leagues. His commitment is even more impressive considering just 10 years ago he donated a kidney to save his son-in-law’s life.
Having joined the army aged 16, John was first introduced to rugby while part of the Lancashire Fusiliers and has been involved in the game ever since. During his 27-year army service, which included several tours around the world as a Regimental Sergeant Major and then as a Captain, John played rugby regularly and took up coaching when he retired from service in 1984.
Then came John’s biggest gift. “In 2006 my son-in-law Martin suffered total kidney failure,” says O’Grady. “He was only 40 but the doctors said he didn’t have much time to live. We had everyone in the family tested to see if we could find a kidney match but no one was.”
John decided to get tested himself and remarkably was near enough an identical match. “The odds of that happening are unbelievable,” says O’Grady, who adds that the next challenge was convincing Martin and the family that he was able to survive the operation.
“I was 65 at the time but I’d always looked after myself in the army and I knew I could get through the procedure,” says O’Grady. “My family weren’t sure but I made it clear that this was the only hope. Martin was dying.”
The operation was a success for both Martin and John who was soon back on the rugby pitch.
“I’ve given most of my life to rugby and I still have a passion for it. It keeps me young,” he says, having coached numerous teams across the country including the Sale Sharks Academy and Lancashire. John is also a committed fan and will be attending the World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester this June with his entire family.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” he said. “To be able to see the future of stars of rugby leaves you with a good feeling that the game is in a good place.”
Every year, John holds an annual dinner to raise money for Kidney for Life and Manchester Royal Infirmary where he and Martin received their treatment and to date have raised close to £15,000.
John has no plans to retire.
“I’ve got coaching, I’ve got golf twice a week and I’ve got my grandchildren. They keep me busy enough and I’m so grateful to still be part of the sport.”
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