RUGBY: THE CIAN PRENDERGAST INTERVIEW
Suncroft’s Cian Prendergast Not Resting On His Laurels
By Daire Walsh
SINCE joining the western province in June of last year, Suncroft’s Cian Prendergast has enjoyed a steady rise up the ranks of Connacht rugby.
Initially signed on an Academy deal – while the sport was still on a hiatus brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic – Prendergast made his first-team debut in Connacht’s bonus-point PR014 victory against Edinburgh at Murrayfield on 25 October 2020. More recently (on March 13, to be exact), he was handed his first competitive start in a league encounter with the same opposition at the Sportsground in Galway.
This game arrived just two days after Prendergast had officially been awarded a professional contract by the province. Still only 21 years of age, this was a major milestone in what he hopes will be a long career in the game.
“Obviously it’s something you worked towards really. Not necessarily it was a main goal this year, but in the back of your mind it’s something that you want to push for and really go after it,” Prendergast acknowledged.
“I think my parents were kind of saying to me ‘don’t really rest on your laurels when you go up there. Really go after it. Put your best foot forward and you don’t know what could happen.’ Luckily through a couple of situations I got an opportunity.
“I like to think that I took it and I put my best foot forward. Put myself in a position to get a contract and they offered me one, which I was delighted to take.”
On the same day his own contract was announced, it was revealed that Prendergast’s fellow Kildare native Jordan Duggan had also agreed to extend his stay in the west for the 2021/22 season. Although two years his junior, Prendergast lined out alongside the loosehead prop for Newbridge College in the 2016 Leinster Schools Senior Cup.
Eadestown man Diarmuid Kilgallen is also listed amongst the Connacht ranks at the moment and Prendergast has been crossing paths with him for the guts of the past decade.
“It was good to see a familiar face [Duggan] when I moved up in June. It’s good in that way and I knew Diarmuid through underage stuff. I think I played against Diarmuid from U10 to U14 for our clubs. Suncroft and Eadestown, we played against each other. The U10 South Board, stuff like that. We kind of knew of each other, but then we got to know each other quite well now.”
Prendergast’s induction into the professional game coincides with another Suncroft star riding off into the sunset. A month before the village’s latest prodigy made his senior bow, Fergus McFadden brought the curtain down on a glittering career that spanned all of 13 years (2007-2020).
The Prendergast and McFadden clans are quite close, and seeing his former neighbour making such a big impact in high-level rugby offered Cian all the incentive he needed to push himself on as a youngster.
“They moved a while ago, but his parents would have lived up the road from my family. My Dad would have known his parents quite well through the Army and stuff. Even when I was younger, you’d see Fergus playing for Ireland and winning Heineken Cups with Leinster. You’re going ‘jesus, it’s possible. Someone here is achieving these kinds of things’.
“It helps you and makes you see a little bit of light in terms of just keep working hard and your opportunities will come. Whether it’s when you’re 12, 13 or you’re 18 years old.”
Prendergast and McFadden had a short spell together as club-mates, with the former having spent the majority of the 2019/20 campaign at Leinster as a Sub-Academy player. During this period, Prendergast featured on a number of occasions for the Leinster ‘A’ side in the Celtic Cup.
Despite being involved on a host of underage provincial set-ups – as well as Leinster Development squads – Prendergast admits his time in the blues’ Academy was a major eye-opener.
“I didn’t realise personally how competitive it was until I experienced it first hand and you realise how many good players there are in Ireland. How many good players there are in your position, in your age group. Never mind just playing for Leinster.
“It makes the experience a little bit more tense and stressful, but it probably allows you to grow a little bit more as a player and pushes you on. You can only grow from those kinds of experiences. You can only get better and it teaches you a good work ethic.
“The coaches there were great. They push you hard and you get a lot out of it. It just helps you with your club rugby. It would have helped me a good bit when I played with UCD.”
Of his six appearances to date for Connacht – which includes a brace of European outings – perhaps the most memorable was the defeat of Leinster in the PRO14 at the RDS on January 2 of this year. Prendergast deputised for Sean Masterson in the closing 12 minutes of that contest as Jack Carty inspired the visitors to a 35-24 victory.
This ended an extraordinary winning sequence for Leinster in the league, stretching all the way back to May 2019.
“Because I hadn’t been in the province for that long, I had only been there barely six months, I only realised how important that win was when I saw the reaction of everyone after the game. How much it meant to the senior players. Like Quinn [Roux] and Jack [Carty], just to see how much it meant to them. How much it meant to the coaches,” Prendergast says of the Leinster win.
“It opened your eyes ‘jeez, this was actually a very big win’. Then someone opened the stat and it was 20 months or something since Leinster had lost in the RDS. Then you go ‘that actually was quite a special evening’. When you’re in your own little bubble with Connacht and you’re just going to training.
“Coming back home and you’re not really meeting people, chatting about it, you don’t really realise the magnitude of it. Once my phone started blowing up as soon as I got in from the game, I was like ‘jeez, this was actually a pretty big evening!’ I got home and I was like ‘wow, that was something special’.”
Like all developing players, Prendergast has international aspirations. He has already gotten a taste for Test rugby through the Ireland U20s, making two appearances for the underage side in last year’s Six Nations – which was cut short just as Noel McNamara’s charges were on the brink of claiming a second consecutive Championship crown.
For now, however, Prendergast’s sights are firmly set on gaining more first-team opportunities with Connacht. Thus far, he has been utilised as both a blindside flanker and second-row. In the latter position, he faces intense competition from a host of accomplished performances, most notably Ireland internationals Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux.
Yet, as far as Prendergast is concerned, he will have the same fight on his hands for a spot in the back-row under Andy Friend.
“It’s tough for any young player to break through. I think most people have noticed Friendy is building quite a good, deep squad within Connacht. You just have to look at the lads that you’re training against. Say on Wednesday, or whatever, we do our big session and the team that’s going to play at the weekend play against the team of lads that weren’t selected,” Prendergast added.
“When you look at the team that weren’t selected, there’s a lot of really, really good players there. You’ve just got to keep putting pressure on those guys and ultimately that’s going to force their performance to be better, and it’s going to make the team better really.”