Anyone for Ennis? How I (kind of) became Ireland’s first rugby pro!


If you have ever run a marathon, which of course I haven’t, you will be familiar with the expression ‘hitting the wall’, which effectively means that at a particular point in the race, you are as good as finished, and almost completely unable to carry on; on this Monday morning, in a journalistic manner, I had hit my wall, and my mind was as blank (nothing unusual I hear you say) as an artist’s canvass.

  I usually get my musings into the office by midday or so on the Monday. Not this week. I could imagine poor old Dan Dooner, who took over from Martina when she baled out a short time ago (after ten years, unable to put up any more with my bad writing and spelling and overuse of commas) tearing out his hair, wondering where is it, and, worst of all, will it arrive at all? I had just about given up all hope of getting any inspiration, and when I tell you I was looking at TV3’s breakfast show, in the (usually) vain hope of seeing anything worthwhile, you will know how desperate I was. Then I saw before me sitting (not so pretty) on the couch two well-known professional rugby players – current Irish captain, Rory Best, and former (now retired) English and Lions scrum-half, Matt Dawson. The weekend that was in it, with Munster and Leinster both failing to make the Heineken Cup Final (I know it’s called something else now but to me it will always be the Heineken Cup), when each of them lost their respective semi-finals, to Saracens and Clermont, made me think of the life as a professional rugby player, and how things have changed since I became the first professional in these islands, way back in 1974.

  I was a penniless (no change there) young bank official way back then, working my way down, in Dundalk, at the time when my brother, The Rasher, asked me to join up with Ennis Rugby Club, where he was playing. As their regular scrum-halves were all injured, they just had to get someone. They were definitely desperate when they came looking for me. Anyway, off I went, and while they didn’t pay me any money, they did pay my train fares, my hotel bill, and for as much food as I could eat over the weekend – which I can tell you was a fair bit –so I can justifiably claim to have been a professional rugby player long before it actually came into being.

  Some years later, Peter Bracken, Carol’s nephew, became a real professional with Connacht, Munster, Wasps, and Bristol, and it was in his early years that I first realised the enormous difference between the new era and the old amateur one.

  Peter got a leg injury at one stage, and, to try to get it better, he was sent off to Poland for a week of cyrotherapy, where he spent the time in and out of a deep-freezing tank, a treatment which was the forerunner of the ice bath.

  Back in my amateur days, and even in my semi-pro Ennis days, when I would wake up with a leg injury, which made me limp for a while, I would ring in sick from work, because I couldn’t stand on the affected limb, and I would take to the high stool for a day of rest and relaxation, in a very committed effort to have a quick recovery. In case you are wondering, the club did not pay for my Monday treatment. As I didn’t pay either, some generous benefactor must have been picking up the bill! If not, I better never go back to the lovely Ennis bar that was Peter Considine’s. Did Ennis get their money’s worth? I would think so, as we made it to the semi-final of the Munster Junior Cup, where we lost to Dolphin in an amazing match which was played in a packed-to-the-rafters Thomond Park, and I don’t think they have got that far since.

  My weekend visits also helped the Queen’s Hotel, where my B&B/food bills were quite expensive, and Peter Considine’s bar sold plenty of porter, whether or not it was paid for, so, all told, we were all winners, especially me.

  Back to ice baths, and recently I met Vinny Egan, St. Croan’s goalie, who runs Connacht Ice Baths. He tells me he brings mobile ice baths, with Treatment Clinic, and mobile unit all over the place, and can go to any club, anywhere, and is extremely busy speeding up the recovery time for players all over the country. So, if you have lost faith in my high stool treatment, give Vinny a shout, and he’ll have you back on the field as soon as possible.

  It’s a big thing nowadays for clubs to get key players back in action as soon as possible and obviously ice baths have a huge part to play in this. It’s no wonder that they are in such demand!

Fundraisers in Athleague and Creggs – please support!

I want to let you know about two big fundraisers that are taking place in this locality over the bank holiday weekend.

  On Friday night (28th), the good people involved in St. Ciaran’s are holding a quiz night in The Bridge House, Athleague, with it all kicking off at 9 pm. The fundraiser is for the U-14 Feile team, who are representing Roscommon in Féile na nÓg at the end of June. Table of 4 is €40, it’s a good cause, and should be good fun.

  On then to Sunday night, and the big Wax, Shave & Dye event takes place in Mikeen’s when John Small, Laura Keegan, Eugene Hanley, and myself are all having something done: rumour has it that The Gunner, also known as Jim Roarke, is going to have something waxed. It’s not confirmed yet, but anything could happen on the night. There will be music and refreshments on the night, and all the monies raised will go to Cancer Care West, so make sure you make it to Mikeen’s on Sunday night, and give generously to a great cause. See you there!

‘Till next week, Bye for now!