Soccer Feature Interview: Christopher ‘Kaka’ McCarthy (Mayfield United) – The Evening Echo – May 25 2020

Kaka McCarthy delighted to get back playing with his childhood club

DESPITE the uncertainty surrounding the future of their Munster Senior League Division 1 campaign, Mayfield United captain Christopher McCarthy is maintaining a healthy outlook in the face of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Under the guidance of Craig Robinson, the 23-year-old has proven to be a talismanic presence for the Lotamore Park outfit.

While acknowledging an element of frustration with the current impasse, McCarthy — or ‘Kaka’ as he is affectionately known — is doing his best to keep in fighting shape for the eventual resumption of competitive fare.

“Lockdown has been and still is tough as it has affected everyone’s day-to-day life in terms of work, socialising and all other day-to-day activities.

“This whole situation is new to everyone, but you have to try stay as positive as you can, because it is tough on a lot of people for all different reasons,” McCarthy said.

“Our manager [Robinson] gave the squad and each player an individual training plan to follow while all this is going on so we are still tipping away.”

With just five games remaining in the second-tier of the MSL, Mayfield found themselves in a battle for promotion alongside Blarney United and Castleview.

Away defeats to Leeside and Everton had left them four points adrift of the former, but they were set to welcome the table-toppers to their home patch in the closing weeks of the season.

Given Mayfield possess the best defensive record in the division (just nine goals conceded in 13 games), there was every chance they could have claimed one of the two promotion slots up for grabs.

“It’s been a very enjoyable season. Craig Robinson and Niall Murphy got us all together even before pre-season and told us the ideas and plans they had and the standards they expect.

“The whole squad bought into it and the results have shown that. All the lads train to a high standard and put in the work but all our defenders are the fittest in our team. That might explain the best defensive record.”

A born and bred Mayfield man, McCarthy returned to his local side in 2018 following a five-year stint at Cobh Ramblers.

He was originally set to captain the club for a second consecutive term in the League of Ireland First Division, only for a chain of events to ultimately herald his return to junior soccer.

“I did most of pre-season with Ramblers that year. We played Cork City the last pre-season game and I did my knee in the MCL.

“I was going to be out for a couple of months. I decided to just take a break from things and recharge mentally and physically. So when I got fit again I decided to go back and play with all my friends in Mayfield.”

Although he doesn’t rule out another spell at the highest level, he is content with life in the southern leagues for the time being.

“I’m still only 23 so who knows. I have at least another 10 years to go so anything could happen.

“I am happy playing with Mayfield and the squad we have is full of ex-League of Ireland players. We have a good manager and team behind him which run everything professional, so I can’t complain.

“Mayfield is a great club, they’ve always looked after me. I played with Mayfield all the way up to schoolboys so it was great to get back playing with all my friends again.”

Nevertheless, McCarthy has nothing but happy memories when he reflects on his time with Ramblers.

After earning Enda McGuill Cup honours with their U19s in 2013/14, he transitioned smoothly into the first-team squad.

Under Stephen Henderson, Cobh twice challenged for an ascension to the top-flight in 2016 and 2017 — the latter campaign seeing McCarthy named on the First Division Team of the Year.

“It started with Martin Cambridge, Fingerz Fogarty and Henry Cullen with the U19 side if I’m being honest.

“They were very good to me. I didn’t want to leave Mayfield at the time because we had a very good team, but Martin convinced me and it was the right decision.

“Stephen Henderson is definitely one of the best managers out there in my opinion.

“I probably played my best football under him, the turnaround he did down in Cobh is not talked about enough.

“He always looked after me down there so I’ve nothing but good things to say about him,” McCarthy concluded.

Posted in League Of Ireland, Soccer Interview | Comments Off on Soccer Feature Interview: Christopher ‘Kaka’ McCarthy (Mayfield United) – The Evening Echo – May 25 2020

Women’s Rugby Feature Interview: Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird (Ireland Sevens) – The Evening Echo – May 25 2020

Ballincollig rugby ace can’t wait to return to her home club

UNDER normal circumstances, Cork rugby star Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird would currently be preparing for the final leg of the Sevens World Series in Paris at the end of this month.

Ordinarily a combined event alongside their male counterparts, this tournament — hosted at Stade Jean-Bouin — is the nearest one to home for the Irish women’s squad.

For this reason, Nic a Bhaird was understandably disappointed to see it cancelled in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak.

“All of our tournaments are abroad obviously, but that one is a lot closer than any of the other events that we go to. Over the last couple of years that’s been one that people are able to get family to,” Nic a Bhaird said.

“It’s in such a cool stadium and obviously with it being a double, it’s just a bigger spectacle in general. It’s kind of a sad one to miss out on alright, but there’s a bigger picture I suppose.”

In addition to this sojourn to the French capital, proposed earlier trips to Hong Kong (April 3-5) and Langford, Canada (May 2-3) were also placed on the back burner.

Given their mixed form throughout the season — Stan McDowell’s charges finished 11th in each of their last three tournaments — Nic a Bhaird admits they had been hoping to end their latest Series journey on a high.

“We were in what would probably be considered a rough patch. We hadn’t been getting the performances that we would set for ourselves.

“Obviously matches weren’t going the way we had planned. We were trying to get back to grips with things and trying to see where things were going wrong. We were putting a lot of emphasis on analysis and trying to improve our general game plans and structures. Probably not the way we would have liked to leave the season.

“There was definitely a lot of things in place that we were looking to put forward in the tournaments that have been cancelled since.”

Though now in her third season on the sevens international circuit, Nic a Bhaird is also a strong exponent of the 15s game.

Having initially featured in the training squad for the 2017 Women’s World Cup on home soil, she eventually made her competitive Ireland debut in a Six Nations victory against Scotland in February of last year.

She accumulated four caps in total over the course of the competition — including starts at hooker in defeats to France and Wales. While it was a frustrating campaign overall for Ireland, it fulfilled a lifetime ambition for Nic a Bhaird.

“It was another one of those milestones. It was probably my first dream really in rugby, to represent my country in that way.

“It was Sydney I came back from and got the call into the Six Nations squad. It wasn’t quite the way I thought it would happen, but a really, really great experience.

“A lot of girls I would have played with through club and provincial level, I finally got to stand next to them during anthems.

“It was a pretty special season actually.”

Following the conclusion of the 2019 Six Nations, the University of Limerick alumni returned to the Sevens programme and has remained there since.

She doesn’t rule out switching back to Adam Griggs’ 15s set-up in the near future, provided the respective management teams in both codes are happy for her to do so.

“There’s been a couple of the girls who have been very successful at being dual across both codes. If I could get to that level as well, it’d be phenomenal. With the 15s, there’s a lot more competition in there now.

“The focus is generally on Sevens and getting the opportunity to play 15s, if there’s a time in our calendar that it’s appropriate. That’s managed mainly by our coaching staff.

“If I’m given the opportunity, I’ll absolutely go for it hell for leather. It’s definitely a dream for the future again.

“At the moment, I’m just focusing on Sevens and seeing when we get back playing really.”

Hailing from just outside Ballincollig, Nic a Bhaird’s first exposure to competitive rugby was with the Highfield U12 and U14 boys’ sides.

For insurance reasons, she wasn’t able to play with them beyond this grade but later re-emerged in the city outfit’s adult ranks as a prodigious 18-year-old.

She went on to play extensively for both them and UL Bohemian in the All-Ireland League before settling at her current club of Old Belvedere on Dublin’s southside.

Since Highfield withdrew from it in 2018, Cork have been without a club at the highest level of women’s rugby in Ireland. However, that is all set to change when Ballincollig join Wicklow in an expanded 10-team AIL for the 2020/21 season.

As a native of the area, Nic a Bhaird has kept a watchful eye on their progress in recent years.

“I wasn’t playing for Highfield in the last couple of seasons, but seeing them losing that spot was quite sad news to hear.

“Given I have such wonderful memories of playing there. Ballincollig has been working hard coming up through the ranks over the last couple of years,” Nic a Bhaird explained.

“Cork is such a huge catchment area, so it surprises me that they haven’t been able to keep an AIL team going. It will be great for Ballincollig to give people that opportunity.”

Posted in Women's Rugby | Comments Off on Women’s Rugby Feature Interview: Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird (Ireland Sevens) – The Evening Echo – May 25 2020

Ladies Football Feature Interview: Ciara McGuigan (Dublin & Thomas Davis) – The Tallaght Echo – May 21 2020

Hopefully we have a c’ship near the end of this year

By Daire Walsh

Despite a return to inter-county action being ruled out until October at the earliest, Dublin ladies footballer Ciara McGuigan remains hopeful that a championship can be played in 2020.

Before the coronavirus outbreak brought a halt to sport across the globe, Mick Bohan’s Sky Blues were set to mount the latest defence of their All-Ireland title under a revamped format.

This year’s senior series was to consist of two groups of six teams each, ensuring a minimum of five games in advance of the knockout rounds.

It has since been confirmed by the LGFA that, if the championship is given the go-ahead in the winter months, it will not be under the structure originally intended.

“Before this pandemic, it was going to be the start of July all the way through the summer and there was going to be a lot of games for us to play. It’s something that we were really preparing for and really excited for,” McGuigan remarked.

“It’s disappointing that won’t go ahead, but we’re just hoping now that we have some sort of championship in the near future. I think we’re all just dying to play football. Hopefully if everything goes back to normal soon we’ll have a championship near the end of the year.”

Since breaking into the side at the tender age of 16, McGuigan (a business development representative with tech company Qualtrics) has become a regular fixture at senior club level with Thomas Davis. She played a starring role in their All-Ireland junior success of 2012 and also featured in their 2013 intermediate final reversal to Galway’s Claregalway 12 months later.

She includes inter-county stalwarts Siobhan McGrath and Olwen Carey amongst her team-mates on the Kiltipper Road and McGuigan joined them on the Dublin panel last year as the Metropolitans secured their third consecutive Brendan Martin Cup triumph.

“Last year I was delighted. It’s something that you dream of and I’d seen Olwen and Siobhan achieve so much that it was great to be able to lift the cup with them,” McGuigan recalls.

“I look up to them so much. They’ve achieved so much as players on the pitch and off the pitch. It was disappointing for me this year to see Olwen take a break.

It was kind of different for me going out to Dublin this year and not having her there and then Siobhan with her break at the start of the year as well. They’re amazing players and hopefully Olwen will be back next year, please God.”

Thus far, McGuigan’s on-pitch involvement with the Dublin seniors has been confined to the LIDL National League – making a total of eight substitute appearances over the past two seasons.

Though breaking into a forward line laden with individual and collective honours is proving exceedingly difficult, the Maynooth University and TU Dublin graduate understands the value of being a good squad player.

“The team is incredible, there’s always competition in the in-house game. It’s definitely a tough team to break into. The girls are insane.

The forward line and midfield, it’s just really, really tough. The in-house games, I would have treated them as championship games last year to push myself.

“When you’re going out on the B team and you’re marking players like Niamh Collins, Olwen or Martha Byrne, you’re thinking to yourself ‘I need to play as well as I can to prepare them going into the All-Ireland semi-final, or to the All-Ireland final, next week’. That’s the way I would have had my mind set,” McGuigan added.

Posted in Ladies GAA | Comments Off on Ladies Football Feature Interview: Ciara McGuigan (Dublin & Thomas Davis) – The Tallaght Echo – May 21 2020

Women’s Rugby Feature Interview: Laura Guest – The Evening Echo – May 18 2020

Laura Guest played her part in some of Irish rugby’s most memorable moments

IN an attempt to fill the void left by the absence of live sport, RTÉ have been delving into their extensive list of archives.

Every Thursday up until the end of August, the national broadcaster will be screening memorable clashes of the past across a number of disciplines. Last week was the turn of women’s rugby and Ireland’s historic Six Nations clincher against Italy in 2013.

A native of Templebryan, near Clonakilty, Laura Guest played the final 22 minutes of that rain-drenched encounter in Milan as the Scrum Queens secured a Grand Slam for the first and only time to date.

Though it was the lowest scoring game of that year’s Championship, Guest is delighted to see it feature alongside some classic affairs in other sports.

“There was some great memories going back. It wasn’t the prettiest game of rugby in the conditions.

“It was probably the best 6-3 match I’ve ever been involved in or I’ve ever seen,” Guest remembers.

“They had Clare’s victory in the 1995 All-Ireland hurling recently. If nothing else, it has been a lovely time to look back at some of those sporting moments.

“Given everything that’s going on at the minute.”

The gruelling affair with the Azzurre isn’t the only Ireland women’s game of that era to be shown during the current lockdown.

On April 19, World Rugby’s streaming service showcased their seminal triumph at the expense of New Zealand in the 2014 World Cup. Guest enjoyed a brace of cameos off the bench as the Irish defied the odds to overcome the southern hemisphere giants.

The Black Ferns’ only previous defeat at a World Cup finals came all of 23 years earlier and they were the firmest of favourites to claim the spoils in this pool stage meeting.

“I just remember again, going into that game there was a quiet confidence within the group that we were going to beat the Black Ferns that day.

“I think when the game was over, everyone’s phone was going mad and saying it was amazing. It was a fantastic game of rugby. It was very different to the 6-3 in Milan!

“It was absolutely a great contest from both sides. It was great to look back at that actually recently.

“The WhatsApp group was flying again around the same time that was being shown.

“Lovely memories to have. It seems like a lot closer than six years ago, but that’s the joy of it.”

After captaining Munster to an interprovincial title in 2014, Guest opted to retire from all levels of rugby as a player.

However, she was appointed head coach at Cork city outfit Highfield the following July and ultimately returned to her home province in an identical role two years later.

While she entered the latter position with vast experience under her belt, Guest admits it still represented a major step up in her off-field career.

“I had coached schools and I had coached adult women’s club teams.

“The level of professionalism that goes into it, it’s another level. I think it was fantastic to be able to be exposed to that.

“I’m certainly very grateful to the branch for allowing me that opportunity. I definitely couldn’t have done it without the management group I was able to assemble.

“Maeve D’Arcy, my manager. Lorna Barry, my strength and conditioning coach. Kathryn Fahy, my physio.

“Helen Brosnan, my assistant coach last year and prior to that David Lombard.

“I just couldn’t have been more blessed with that group of people and with the group of players I got to work with as well.

“I feel very grateful to have been able to work with them.”

Having enjoyed three years at the helm of the Munster women’s team, guiding them to an interprovincial championship in her debut season, Guest is set to depart the role in order to concentrate on her day job as a school teacher at Midleton College.

It had proven to be a difficult juggling act for the 35-year-old and she feels a full-time employee of the branch is best suited to taking over the reins.

“I just feel the commitment and the level that is needed now in the provincial women’s game, to try and match the high performance of the national side, it’s kind of leaning towards somebody who has more time.

“To try and really bridge the gap between provincial and international rugby.”

There is no doubt Guest has done her utmost to aid the progression of women’s rugby at the southern province and leaves behind an ideal template for her eventual successor.

If the IRFU can overcome a major obstacle that is currently in their path, she believes a bright future also lies in wait for the international side.

“I think there’s some exciting players out there to be honest and I think they’re beginning to come through.

“I still think one of our biggest challenges with the sport is, similar to any other sport really, to try and stop losing the female participants in their late teens. To really try and get those players to transition from underage to adult rugby.

“I think there are some great players coming through to the Irish set-up. Hopefully they’re building again.

“I think they’ve got some great players in their leadership group there and they’re very well captained by Ciara Griffin. I think there’s plenty more to come in the Irish side.”

Posted in Women's Rugby | Comments Off on Women’s Rugby Feature Interview: Laura Guest – The Evening Echo – May 18 2020

Camogie Feature Interview: Ali Twomey (Dublin & Lucan Sarsfields) – The Tallaght Echo – May 14 2020

Twomey in high demand over last few weeks

By Daire Walsh

With many people across the nation being adversely affected by the continued outbreak of the Coronavirus disease, Dublin camogie star Ali Twomey is grateful to have found herself in high demand over the last few weeks.

A health safety environment coordinator at Swords-based company Mitie, the Lucan Sarsfields attacker has remained out in the field rather than being confined to working from home.

“I’m still in the office. I’m working in a facilities company, so there’s still a lot of clients. Banks and things like that which would be essential services. They still need to be running. We would be contracted in for them, so we’d need to be working to keep them in business. We’re still kind of flat out at the minute,” Twomey explained.

“Probably busier than before. I’m personally busier than I would have been before. I know there’s a lot of people that have been laid off. I’m just happy that I’m still lucky enough to have a job and I have a routine where I am going into work. It’s positive.”

Due to an injury she sustained at the tail end of 2019, Twomey had already been training on her own before the global pandemic took a firm grip on these shores. As a consequence, she was able to adapt to a remote training regime quicker than most.

The former St Joseph’s College, Lucan student is currently working off a programme alongside her Sky Blues team-mates and, given the uncertainty over when they will return to competitive fare, she believes a measured approach is required in testing times for the squad.

“Everyone is in the same boat and some days people find it hard to get motivated and to get out. That’s fine as well. It can be hard to stay motivated when there is no set date. There is uncertainty, you don’t know if you’re going to be playing matches or not this year.

“If everyone is maintaining the fitness that they have now, and then when there’s talks of games you can ramp it up. I don’t think people should be getting too caught up in actually doing really tough sessions now and trying to peak when there’s nothing really to peak for. It’s just important that everyone is maintaining fitness and everyone is happy.”

Now in her 10th year on the panel, Twomey has witnessed many ups and downs in a Dublin jersey.  Having struggled to register a win in the senior championship for many years, the Metropolitan reached three All-Ireland quarter-finals and one semi-final over the course of the past five seasons.

Though John Treacy and Willie Braine are now steering the ship in a joint capacity, Twomey credits Shane O’Brien and David Herity – a five-time Liam McCarthy Cup winner with his native Kilkenny – for sparking a major upturn in the county’s fortunes.

“The two of them did unbelievable work with Dublin camogie and they worked with the whole of Dublin camogie.

“I know David did so much work bringing in club players and minor players. I know the county board set up camps, but David really made sure that they worked well. He cared about Dublin camogie as a whole and not just our team.

“I think that really brought everyone together. It brought younger girls to our matches and things like that. It made people want to play for Dublin. I think a lot of that was down to him. He did so much work. It showed because we got to a semi-final in 2017,” Twomey added.

Posted in Camogie | Comments Off on Camogie Feature Interview: Ali Twomey (Dublin & Lucan Sarsfields) – The Tallaght Echo – May 14 2020

Camogie Feature Interview: Hannah Hegarty (Dublin & St Jude’s) – The Tallaght Echo – May 14 2020

Hannah can’t wait to make up for lost time

By Daire Walsh

Dublin camogie skipper Hannah Hegarty admits she can’t wait to make up for lost time with St Jude’s once clearance is given for the resumption of club activity.

For a combination of reasons, the defensive lynchpin’s time with the Wellington Lane outfit was restricted throughout 2019 and she last featured on the local scene in the southsiders’ senior championship final defeat to St Vincent’s last October.

“I didn’t get to go to any pre-season trainings between county and college this year, so I’m absolutely dying to get back with the club. It’s something that I’m really looking forward to.

Especially as I’d broken my foot last February, so I actually missed the whole club league,” Hegarty acknowledged.

“The only bit of club I’ve played in the past year or more was the championship last autumn. I’m very eager to get back with the club girls. Definitely.”

Just before the Irish government introduced the first of the restrictions to deal with the outbreak of the Coronavirus, Dublin played their third and final group game of the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie League.

A 1-10 to 0-10 reversal at the hands of Limerick meant the Metropolitans finished their Division One campaign without a win to their name – something that was a source of frustration for Hegarty and the squad as a whole.

“Disappointing, in terms of the work that we had put in and the plans that we had put in place. We never really achieved what we had set out to.

Obviously scoring is an issue, but we’re still conceding scores on the defensive end as well. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where we let down a small bit, but that’s the nature of trying to figure out where we need to improve.”

In addition to her prowess with the small ball, Hegarty is also a talented Gaelic footballer.

She represented Dublin as a dual player at minor level and had the unique distinction of captaining both squads through their respective championship odysseys in 2015.

She was set to lead the DCU footballers into battle at the O’Connor Cup finals weekend in the Kerry Centre of Excellence on March 13 and 14, but the escalation of the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to these particular plans.

“We were really looking forward to the O’Connor Cup weekend this year. We were told an hour before we were meant to meet to leave for Kerry that we wouldn’t be going. A very late call.

“When they made that decision, I was like ‘that’s it’. I knew it wasn’t going to be re-scheduled. Then obviously a few weeks later it was announced that it was cancelled all together.”

Now one of the more experienced members of the panel, Hegarty enjoyed a whirlwind introduction to the inter-county set-up under David Herity in 2017.

In addition to helping Dublin reach their first All-Ireland semi-final since 1990, Hegarty earned the first of two All-Star nominations to date.

“2017 is definitely a year I look back on with a big fondness. It’s where we want to get back to. In terms of the mental side of things, we were in a different place I think. On a personal level, getting the All Star nomination, it didn’t feel real.

A young player, my first year up at senior,” Hegarty recalls.

“It was a real surreal feeling. Even when we were at the All Stars, I was sitting there looking around at the calibre of players I was sitting with it and it was enough to even be there on the night.”

Posted in Camogie | Comments Off on Camogie Feature Interview: Hannah Hegarty (Dublin & St Jude’s) – The Tallaght Echo – May 14 2020

Rugby Feature: John Poland (New England Free Jacks) – The Evening Echo – May 11 2020

Former Irish U20 John Poland is keeping options open after US season cut short

AFTER his debut campaign in USA’s Major League Rugby was cut short with five rounds played, Ballinora native John Poland is uncertain of what lies ahead for him in the remaining months of 2020.

A former Ireland U20 international, the elusive scrum-half touched down in Boston last December to join forces with New England Free Jacks.

A new addition to the MLR this season, Josh Smith’s side were still coming to terms with a step-up in quality when the competition was cancelled on March 19 owing to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

With the Free Jacks not set to resume competitive fare until January 2021, Poland may have to look elsewhere in an effort to maintain his match sharpness.

He had previously contemplated a brief spell in the southern hemisphere and though he says such a move appears unlikely at the moment, he is certainly keeping his options open.

“I’m hoping to try and find my way down to New Zealand or Australia if possible. That was kind of the plan anyway.

“I’d try and head down there, get some experience of playing different styles of rugby. Just some life experience as well while I’m young and I don’t have many things holding me back,” Poland said.

“I’ve got my college degree and I’ve a good bit of time off. New England are happy for me to do it.

“At the moment, I’m trying to sort out heading down to New Zealand. Down to Dunedin maybe.

“Obviously, with these coronavirus restrictions, it’s going to be hard to go anywhere. If I’m able to travel, that will definitely be the plan.

“If it is at all possible, I’ll be hopefully heading over.”

While he had spent several months with the Free Jacks, circumstances dictated that Poland never got to play in the club’s Massachusetts-based home ground.

Initial encounters with Rugby United New York and Utah Warriors took place in the neutral terrain of Nevada, followed by tricky away assignments to San Diego Legion, Seattle Seawolves and NOLA Gold as part of a tour of the West Coast.

They were finally set to welcome Houston SaberCats to Union Sports Complex on March 14, only for all games across the States to be brought to a halt.

“It would have been amazing. It was going to be the first Free Jacks MLR game in Boston and they’d sold 3,500 tickets and there would have been more on the day.

“It would have been a good turnout for sure and it was Paddy’s weekend. Obviously that’s a big thing in Boston,” said Poland.

“We were really looking forward to getting out at home and having a few supporters at the game.

“Playing the first game in Boston after training there for so long. It wasn’t to be.

“Next year hopefully there’ll be a full season and we’ll get to play our first home game in Boston.

“Get all the people to come back who were going to come this year.”

During his relatively short time in The Bay State, Poland found himself among familiar company.

In addition to fellow Irish men like Tadhg Leader, Sean McNulty and Ronan McCusker, the 23-year-old was reunited with former Cork Constitution team-mate Conor Kindregan.

“I played with him in Cork Con for two years.

“We won the AIL, we won two Bateman Cups, two Munster Senior Cups and we got to the AIL final both years.

“Kindregan would have been a big part of that. Then I went to UCC and I played with Kindregan again with the Irish Clubs side last year, just before he moved out to Boston.

“He had a part to play in me getting involved and coming over. It was great to have him over there to see what the atmosphere was like and what I was getting myself into before I signed.

“Also good to have a friend and someone that is of a similar culture and would have similar ideas about rugby to me. I was going over knowing I wouldn’t be completely in the dark or out of my comfort zone.”

A product of the Munster Academy, Poland lined out once for the Reds’ first-team in a February 2018 victory over Zebre in the Guinness PRO14.

Having tasted life in the provincial system (he was a British & Irish Cup winner with the Munster ‘A’ side in 2016/17) Poland doesn’t rule out the possibility of returning to it one day.

Before then, a reunion with either of his former clubs in the AIL could be on the cards for the finance graduate if he has to remain on these shores.

“I’d love to come back and play with one of the provinces. Even if I can’t travel this year now, I’ll probably play in the AIL with UCC or one of the Cork teams.

“If one of the provinces were to come calling, I’d be delighted to play for any of them. Just to play in Ireland and to play in the PRO14. To play for a province would be amazing.

“However unlikely it may seem now, you never know.

“It could happen. At the moment, I’m just focused on staying fit and playing as well as I can. I’m really enjoying playing in America and playing in the MLR.

“Seeing so much of America and meeting so many new people. The different challenges it brings,” Poland said.

Posted in Rugby Interview | Comments Off on Rugby Feature: John Poland (New England Free Jacks) – The Evening Echo – May 11 2020

Rugby Feature Interview: Evan Mintern (Cork Constitution & Rugby United New York) – The Evening Echo – May 4 2020

Cork rugby: Mintern won’t let run of bad luck deter him from professional dream

SINCE he was just five years of age, Blackrock’s Evan Mintern had dreamed of becoming a professional rugby player.

While a hamstring injury ensured a previous five-month trial at Munster didn’t go according to plan, his wish was seemingly granted when he signed terms with MLR outfit Rugby United New York (RUNY) last November.

However, his anticipated arrival in the Big Apple two months later was put on hold when his visa application was unexpectedly rejected.

Mintern and former Australian international Drew Mitchell were eventually given clearance a few weeks back, but by then the MLR had already decided to declare the 2020 league ‘null and void’.

As frustrating as this was for the Cork Constitution stalwart, he is eternally grateful to RUNY for supporting him throughout an arduous process.

“I planned on going over there for January 2 and I had presumed the visa was nearly done and dusted.

“It wasn’t a big deal at all. Then it dragged on longer and longer and longer. It kept going. I only found out mid-January I’d say that it was declined.

“Apparently we had a bad case officer and it was unfortunate,” Mintern recalls.

“That happened and I was disappointed for a week, but I got back onto my agent and I was thinking ‘look, there’s no point in being depressed over it. Get up, get back on the horse and keep going’.

“A week later James Kennedy, the owner of the club, gave me a call and he basically said ‘look, we think you can offer a lot to the club and we think we can get a lot of value out of you’.

“So they went for a different visa for me. They put a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of effort into it.”

Though New York is the epicentre of the Coronavirus pandemic in the US, Mintern remains committed to making the move to the east coast city.

Yet RUNY won’t taste competitive action again until January of next year, meaning the 24-year-old CBC Cork alum has to explore alternative avenues in a bid to maintain his match sharpness.

“The aim was that they wanted to get me active in some way in September. Back playing, back fit.

“Whether that be playing All-Ireland League for a couple of months or else there’s another option that I could go over and maybe play a bit of club rugby over there. So that I could settle in, get used to it.”

When he does finally link up with the Coney Island-based side, Mintern will find himself among some familiar faces and voices. Head coach Greg McWilliams and team manager Simon Gillespie are natives of Dublin and Donegal respectively, while nine Irish men are currently on the RUNY playing roster.

Remarkably, Mintern will become the fourth Leesider at the club with Paddy Ryan, James Rochford and long-time friend Jason Higgins already plying their trades there.

“I’ve known Jason since I was 12. I played with him in Con, I played with him in Christians. There’s another fella, James Rochford, I wouldn’t have played with him but I would have known him around Con U20s.

“He’d have played with my brother. Then Will Leonard, who’d be a year older than me, played with Shannon. I’d be familiar enough with him as well,” Mintern says.

“That would have made it a lot more appealing. It’d be easier to get over and settle in.

“They understand how it goes and they’d have made it a lot easier as well.”

Once Mintern makes his debut in New York, he will become the latest player from the Ireland U20s class of 2016 to make their mark in the professional game.

Having missed out on selection for that year’s Six Nations, he was added to the mix for the summertime World Championships in England.

It proved to be a groundbreaking tournament for Nigel Carolan’s charges as they backed up a shock pool victory against New Zealand by reaching the final against host nation England.

During this period, Mintern rubbed shoulders with Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Max Deegan and Jacob Stockdale, who subsequently pushed onto the senior international ranks. After his initial surprise at making the cut, he came to terms with being in exalted company.

“I wasn’t really on the Ireland U20 radar at all to be honest. I played a couple of Munster development games against the Irish U20s.

“I was lucky I played well in one and I played alright in the other one. Then Peter Claffey and Will Connors got injured, so I got a call.

“I hadn’t any involvement at all, so I went to one training camp the week before the World Cup.

“More than anything, I was looking around like ‘f***ing hell, how did I get here?’.

“After the shock set in, I started looking at fellas like James and Porter. I wouldn’t say admiring them, but their work ethic was off the wall.

“There hasn’t been a squad like that really in a long time. Whether it’s 7s or 15s, they’re all playing top level somewhere. I’d say I’m one of the few fellas who hasn’t gotten a contract in Ireland yet, but I had to go elsewhere.”

He may be heading off on the road less travelled, but Mintern appears to have all the necessary tools to make a lasting impact across the atlantic.

Posted in Rugby Interview, Senior Club Rugby | Comments Off on Rugby Feature Interview: Evan Mintern (Cork Constitution & Rugby United New York) – The Evening Echo – May 4 2020

GAA Feature Interview: Niall Coakley (St Jude’s & Former Cork Footballer) – The Evening Echo – April 30 2020

‘It took a while to get over being dropped from the Cork panel to be honest…’

FORMER Cork footballer Niall Coakley had a head start over most when it came to adjusting to the new normal.

A senior account manager with Google, the Carrigaline man began to work remotely several days before the Irish government announced their first set of restrictions to tackle the Coronavirus on March 12.

The multinational technology company undertook an initial trial to see if it was possible for their employers to base themselves from home. Once this exercise went off without a hitch, it was readily apparent they would retain this policy for the foreseeable future.

“I think there’s 4,500 full-time employees and another 3,500 temporary employees.

“They were trying to see if the systems and everything like that would work okay with everyone logging on remotely.

“We did for two days and then the following week we went full remote. We’ve been working remotely ever since,” Coakley explained.

Coakley’s work with Google brought him to Dublin in 2014 and after continuing to play his club football with Carrigaline for the remainder of that season, he subsequently transferred to St Jude’s on the capital’s southside the following year.

This transfer looked set to dent his inter-county prospects but courtesy of a strong support network in both work and football, he was called up to the Rebels panel in advance of the 2016 championship.

“Maybe the stars had aligned to a certain degree. Firstly, with work I had actually just moved to a new team internally in Google.

“It was on the Irish team and my manager at the time was a woman called Marie Davis. She’s from Skibbereen and football royalty down there!” Coakley says.

“Secondly, Billy Sheehan [former Laois footballer] had actually moved to Templeogue and started playing with Jude’s. He ended up getting involved in the Cork set-up at the start of 2016.

“He said ‘look, we’re playing an internal challenge game here on Paddy’s Day. You’ll be down in Carrigaline anyway. Do you want to come in and play?’.

“Anyway, I went in and played. I played quite well and that was how it kind of happened for me. Bar being on a Cork minor training panel, I never would have played with Cork when I was with Carrigaline. Funny how it kind of happened.”

Coakley went on to feature prominently for the Leesiders in 2017, starring in a number of McGrath Cup and National League games before finally being handed his championship debut in a Munster final defeat to Kerry.

Yet when Ronan McCarthy replaced Peadar Healy in the Cork hot seat in the wake of their narrow qualifier exit to Mayo, he suddenly found himself surplus to requirements. Considering how much football he had played under the previous regime, Coakley admits he struggled to come to terms with being dropped off the panel.

“2017, I felt I’d shown throughout that the year that I was good enough to be at that level. I would have felt like 2018 would have been another chance for me to kick on even further at that level, but it wasn’t to be.

“Ronan McCarthy and his selectors had other ideas. It was very disappointing. It took me a while to get over it, to be completely honest with you.

“There was a lot of other things then that I could focus on. I could give more time to Jude’s, I could give more time to work. With every downside or a disappointing bit of news, or disappointing decision like that, there is an upside to it. But I’d be lying in saying it didn’t affect me for a while.”

Rather than focus on the past, Coakley is eager to look forward and remains optimistic about the road in front of him. Having not played a single game to date in 2020, the 30-year-old is hopeful of seeing some action before the year is out.

He was part of the Jude’s team that lost out to Kilmacud Crokes in a Dublin county decider just under two years ago and believes they are on the cusp of a major championship breakthrough.

“It would be a bit of a sickener if I don’t get to play any football and I have to wait until next year. As I said, I’m dying for football, I’m dying for training, I’m dying to be back in that environment. Whether we get it, hopefully we will. There’s no telling what will happen between now and then, but hopefully we’ll get a club championship and maybe even a bit more,” Coakley added.

Posted in Gaelic Football | Comments Off on GAA Feature Interview: Niall Coakley (St Jude’s & Former Cork Footballer) – The Evening Echo – April 30 2020

Rugby Feature Interview: Rory Parata (Cornish Pirates) – The Evening Echo – April 30 2020

Cork rugby pro Rory Parata adjusting to the ‘new normal’ with Cornish Pirates

HAVING made it his home over the past two years, Rory Parata was not going to be found wanting when the Coronavirus started to take its grip on the town of Penzance in the south-west English county of Cornwall.

Since the summer of 2018, the Passage West native has been plying his trade with local Championship outfit Cornish Pirates.

Given he lives amongst a tight-knit community, Parata had no hesitation when he was asked to volunteer alongside a host of the Pirates’ first-team squad. “Our head physio got in contact with the pharmacy up the road. It’s quite a small pharmacy, so obviously no one is allowed inside and they’re getting really big lines. Two of us go up from 9-12 and then another two guys go up from 2-5 and just take people’s names. Help people get their prescriptions,” Parata said.

Whereas a number of leagues have been put on ice for the time being or declared null and void, English rugby’s second-tier was ended in peculiar circumstances. Though they was still seven games left to play, Newcastle Falcons were handed the Championship title on April 4 and replace Saracens in next season’s top-flight.

Pirates claimed third spot in the final standings and Parata has no qualms over an unbeaten Newcastle being awarded their crown.

“Obviously everyone is a bit disappointed because we felt like we were getting a bit of form. We were doing quite well. I know Ealing had some things to say, but I think they [Newcastle] were clearly the best team in the league.

“We played them a few weeks ago and they gave us a bit of a hiding. I think everyone in the Championship knew that they were probably a class above everyone else.”

Now 25, Parata has been well travelled throughout his personal and professional life. Born in Sydney to a New Zealander father and a mother who hails from Bishopstown, Parata was nine years old when he moved to Cork with his family.

After featuring for Rockwell College in the 2013 Munster Schools Senior Cup decider, he accepted a place in the Connacht Academy. After completing a four-year stint in Galway, he enjoyed brief spells in New Zealand (Harbour Dunedin) and Italy (Zebre) before being snapped up by the Cornish Pirates.

The former Dolphin and Sunday’s Well youth had shown considerable promise during his breakthrough season with Connacht in 2015/16, amassing 12 appearances in the westerners’ march towards an historic Guinness PRO12 triumph.

Unfortunately, the intense competition for places ensured opportunities became limited as time went by and Parata admits he could have taken a different approach during his final 12 months at the province.

“For a few of us, that was our first year playing proper, pro full-time rugby. A lot of the guys were laughing. Ronan Loughney and John Muldoon saying ‘jeez, we’ve done this for how many years and you lads come along in your first season and you get to win a PRO12!’.

“Everything came quite quick for me.

“Looking back now, I probably would have told myself not to take it all for granted so much. Obviously the players we had at the time. Robbie [Henshaw] left and Eoin Griffin came in, who has just retired. He was a great player as well. The whole back line in general, we had a lot of great players.”

Like most of the sporting world, Parata is doing his best to adjust to the ‘new normal’ brought upon by this global pandemic. Although the UK Government are imposing major restrictions during this unprecedented crisis, he had displayed admirable ingenuity to maintain a strong level of fitness in advance of the Pirates’ eventual return to competitive rugby.

“I’m quite lucky in that I live in an apartment complex where there’s only two houses in it. The other person who lives right next door to me is another player. We’ve been quite smart with the self-isolation. We were allowed to go into the gym, take a few dumb bells.

“We go on the roof every day and then there’s a football pitch just up the road that I don’t think anyone really goes to. We’ve been up there doing fitness three times a week as well, almost to keep sane at this stage almost,” Parata added.

Posted in Rugby Interview | Comments Off on Rugby Feature Interview: Rory Parata (Cornish Pirates) – The Evening Echo – April 30 2020