The region’s rugby community paid tribute to Steve Holohan, the former Dubai Hurricanes and Arabian Gulf coach, who died on Thursday at the age of 61.
The Welshman oversaw Hurricanes’ rise to becoming the leading side in West Asia during his trophy-laden spell in charge between 2004 and 2009.
He also served as the co-coach of the Arabian Gulf during the representative side’s debut Asian Five Nations campaign in 2008, alongside Wayne Marsters.
“I think he was one of the main influences who changed Gulf rugby for the better,” said Chris Gregory, who was the Hurricanes captain during their ascent under Holohan.
“Without him, I don’t think the Hurricanes would be where they are. Those results got the big-time sponsors involved, and that was a massive credit to him.
“He and I did not always agree, but we had the same passion. That is the biggest thing I have been thinking about over the past couple of days. We both wanted exactly the same thing.
“He knew the game so well. A lot of people can look at a game on the TV and shout that they should be doing this or that, but Hooly actually knew it.
“I know I don’t. I could play it, but I would never be able to coach it like he coached it.
“Looking back on it, they were great times. My arms still hurt from having to lift so many trophies during his time. I think the club owes him a lot.”
The present-day Hurricanes are a world away from that which Holohan found when he first arrived.
Rise of rugby in UAE
The team was just five years old at that point. They had been set up ahead of the 1999 Dubai Rugby Sevens as the Mina Seyahi Hurricanes, on account of the fact replica shirts of the Wellington Super rugby team of the same name were all they could get hold of at short notice.
“If it wasn’t for him, the Hurricanes wouldn’t be where we are today,” said Graham Brown, who played for Holohan with the Hurricanes and the Gulf.
“He got us winning things. He brought a sense of professionalism to the amateur game, knew everything about the laws – as most referees would testify – and he won everything.”
Holohan, who was originally from Mumbles, near Swansea in Wales, was a popular figure across the Gulf, having later coached in Bahrain and Muscat, whose club Facebook page said he “bled rugby”.
Dominic Parker, another Hurricanes player, wrote on their Facebook page that their former coach defined the club.
“From a Canes perspective, very few gave as much as Hools,” Parker wrote.
“His uncompromising style generated results on and off the field, and many benefitted. I am confident he had a similar impact everywhere he went.
“He’d tell me, ‘I’m here as the coach, not as your friend,’ but you knew he was the most loyal one you could have.
“In many ways he defined who we are as a club, and his fingerprints are all over the future success that came our way. He will be sadly missed.”