Paul Moriarty had commented on the length of the grass at the Talbot Athletic Ground after Swansea played Aberavon in the early years of professional rugby.

Apparently, it was too long.

Within hours of the then Whites and Wales back rower’s quotes appearing in print, there was a riposte from a Wizards stalwart, who didn’t want to be named: “If Moriarty feels so strongly about the length of our grass, tell him to get over here with a f*****g shears and cut it himself.”

Banter.

Friendly banter, perhaps.

No one was truly serious, and there were no reports of Moriarty enduring a back-breaking day or three with shears in hand at Aberavon's base.

But such light-hearted exchanges from more innocent times weren’t the order of the day in Welsh rugby a few years on amid the demise of the Celtic Warriors.

Sample this from Lynn Howells, in his book Despite the Knock-backs: “The ba***rds. Those were my thoughts as I slumped down in my chair at our training complex at Pencoed after I realised what had happened... For rugby in the Valleys, the heartland of Welsh rugby, it was the final curtain.”

Or have a flavour of Gareth Thomas’ mood back then.

He was heading for Toulouse that summer, but the sight of his Warriors team-mates being distributed around the other regions left him less than impressed.

“What annoyed me was the cattle auction that had gone on behind the players’ backs among Wales’ other regions as soon as it became apparent that the Warriors were in their death throes,” he wrote in his book Alfie!

“Players were divvied out among the four surviving sides with a bit of haggling here and there over selected individuals.

“A lot of the boys, the Wales hooker Mefin Davies being one, were told quite simply that nobody wanted them and that were was no prospect of their contracts being paid off, because the Warriors had ceased trading.

“It made me sick, and even if the Toulouse move had not been arranged I for one would not have played for any of the other regions under those circumstances.

“If Steve Lewis (then the Welsh Rugby Union’s general manager) had called me in that day and said Cardiff Blues were offering me £80,000 a year to play for them, I would have looked him in the eye and said: ‘Tell Cardiff Blues, the Scarlets, the Dragons and the Ospreys to stick it up their arses. I’m off to play in England.’

“The players had been reduced to pieces of meat.”

Gareth Thomas leaves a players meeting at the height of the Celtic Warriors crisis

We are rapidly approaching the 17th anniversary of the Warriors’ end.

Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets had each allegedly stumped up £312,500 towards a pot of £1.25m assembled by the Welsh Rugby Union to buy Warriors boss Leighton Samuel's share in the Bridgend and Glamorgan valleys outfit. The WRU went on to wind up the region with the surviving Welsh professional sides picking off the players.

Mefin Davies was the highest-profile casualty.

He’d already captained Wales by that point and was a hugely respected figure in the Welsh game.

But there was no offer on the table for the hooker.

Cattle market

“I will never forget what happened — it was like a cattle market,” he has since told WalesOnline.

“We were called into a room one-by-one to learn our fate.

“Players were told whether clubs were interested in them or not.

“Brent Cockbain went into his meeting and came out saying: ‘There are two clubs interested in me — the Ospreys and someone else.’ I remember Kevin Morgan had a couple of clubs who wanted him. But there was nothing for me.

“It took some understanding. There I was, a long standing member of the Wales squad, and no Welsh region wanted me to play for them. And there were others who weren't wanted, too.

Mefin Davies in action for the Celtic Warriors in 2004

“I just think the whole process, everything about it and not just what happened to me, was done badly. It was horrific.

“It wasn’t just the players. It was also the staff, the people behind the scenes. I felt for the coaches, Allan Lewis and Lynn Howells. Lynn, a former Wales coach, left and hasn’t had a front-line job in Welsh rugby since, which is bizarre.

“He’s a guy of integrity and great moral standing who has vast rugby knowledge. My guess is that most people who’ve worked with Lynn would speak well of him.

“Some of the Warriors’ academy players disappeared, too.

“It just wasn’t a great chapter.”

Hard men in tears

The virtual fire sale of players highlighted how truly messy the whole business was.

Davies found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Howells, Warriors head coach when it the end came, remembers how shabbily the Wales front rower, in particular, was treated. “What happened to Mefin was disgusting,” he told this writer.

“He was a Wales international player who gave his all for the cause.

"It was a hard time for him. He deserved better and so did others who found themselves in the same position."

In Despite the Knock-backs, Howells says: “One by one they were told which region or in some cases regions wanted them, or the knife was stuck in and they were told no one wanted them.

“It was brutal and savage...Some of the players who came out of the room were relatively happy, though 'relieved' might be a better word.

“Others were devastated.

“Tongan Maama Molitika, for instance, one of the toughest men you could wish to meet, wasn’t wanted by anyone, and he was in tears.

“It wasn’t just the players, either; it was the other people who were affected, the families with houses to pay for and bills to pay."

It was an inglorious episode by any standard.

Fistful of euros?

There was a potential lifeline for Davies when then French champions Stade Francais came in with a potentially lucrative offer.

For the clubless No. 2, it must have been tempting.

But the opportunity came with a catch. Stade wanted the Nantgaredig-born Welsh-speaker to focus all his energies on them and give up playing for Wales.

What was he to do? Accept Stade’s fistful of euros, complete with small-print clause requiring him to turn his back on his country, or take up an offer from Neath to play part-time in the Welsh Premiership, worth £9,000 a year?

He joined the Welsh All Blacks.

“The Stade Francais deal was for two years,” he said.

“I went there, met them and they put their opportunity on the table.

“But the sticking point was they said: ‘We want you to play 40 games a season here. We don’t want you to play for Wales.’

“So effectively I was being asked to give up international rugby.

“Paris isn’t far from Wales, but it was a long flight home. I spoke with Wales coach Mike Ruddock when I got back to ask him if I featured in his plans. Then it was a question of who I would play for if I didn’t move to France.

“I ended up turning down Stade and joining Neath in the Welsh Premiership.

“I actually played a lot on the bench for the Ospreys at that time, as cover for Barry Williams while Richard Hibbard was coming through.

“I then had an approach from Gloucester ahead of the Ospreys playing a European cup match against Harlequins in London. We won the game and the very next day I had an offer from Derwyn Jones, who was working for the Ospreys at the time, offering a two-year deal with the Ospreys.

“By then I’d had enough of Welsh rugby’s politics, so I joined Gloucester.

“I’d been on tour to Argentina and South Africa with Wales with no job and uncertainty over my career.

“Rowland Phillips was fantastic in trying to help me out and I was grateful to Neath.

"But the Ospreys offer came too late in the day.

“Enough was enough after six months of not really knowing what I’d be doing.

“I’d given Gloucester my word and I stuck to it.”

No regrets

Later that season, Davies was rewarded for his loyalty to Wales when they won the Grand Slam.

“I have never regretted doing what I did,” he says.

“Things hadn't been too good with Wales in the previous couple of years, but we were on a journey and I wanted to stay on it. I didn’t want to look back and wonder what might have been.

Mefin Davies
Mefin Davies (left) was part of the Wales Grand Slam side in 2005

“Not long after, we ended up winning our first Grand Slam in 27 years.

“Stade’s offer was attractive because it was a job compared to not having a job.

“But the price of giving up Test rugby was too high. My heart and soul were in playing for Wales. Joining Stade wouldn’t have been the right decision.”

Former Wales coach Lynn Howells
Former Celtic Warriors coach Lynn Howells

RIP, Celtic Warriors

The Warriors became a footnote in history.

In their short season-long existence they had won away at Warren Gatland’s Wasps in the Heineken Cup and beaten Perpignan; they finished fourth in the Celtic League. In all they won 17 of their 28 fixtures in all tournaments.

The downside had been some disappointing attendance figures, working out at an average of 3,327 in all competitions.

It seems reasonable to say a section of the support base in Pontypridd lost faith in Warriors owner Samuel as the one and only campaign wore on. It all seemed more than a bit unstable off the field and things didn’t improve with Pontypridd going into administration.

Finally, the WRU assumed a controlling influence, with rumours spreading like wildfire that such a move was afoot during the spring of 2004.

There’s little doubt that the money and talent in Welsh rugby had been spread too thinly at the time.

But it was the way the Warriors were liquidated and their players divided up that left a bitterness that exists to this day.

The region had enjoyed an all-too-fleeting existence, and some of their supporters maintain that they could have been a significant success.

But with the figures not adding up in terms of finances nor spectators, it wasn’t to be.

Professional sport can be a tough business, and ruthless as well.