As the leaves gather by the roadside, ghastly masks appear at the shop fronts and European Rugby returns to the fixture list, there isn’t a schoolchild in the country that hasn’t cast an eye on the midterm break that is creeping up.
Having been eager to make a good impression on their new mentors both inside and outside the classroom, first year students are particularly in need of a well-earned rest. Ambling through the corridors with bursting schoolbags and a few scratches from the previous day’s game with Newbridge College, you would have assumed that Eoghan Cumbers, Gareth Donovan and George Fitzpatrick would jump at the chance to put their feet up for a few days. Yet, as they reflected upon the first eight weeks of their tenure at Clongowes Wood College, it became clear that they would miss their rugby.
“I think I learned the name of everybody in my year when I was out on the rugby pitch,” explains Eoghan. “I hadn’t played much rugby before I came here so I was pretty nervous, I didn’t know what to expect. But I found out pretty quickly that I wasn’t the only one. It helped me to link up with guys I hadn’t met yet”
“Yeah, rugby helped us in a lot of ways at the start actually.” Gareth adds. “None of us really knew each other. We were in a new school. We had new teachers. The whole thing was a bit scary. But rugby kept us all occupied and helped to break up the week.”
Having never played the game before, Gareth admits that he was a little anxious as he moulded his gum shield for the first time. “Some of the guys who had played before couldn’t wait to get stuck in by throwing themselves into tackles,” he remembers. “Thankfully we have a great coach,” George interjects. “We built up our skills very slowly and there was also a focus on our fitness. It was frustrating for those of us who just wanted to play but we were also learning something everyday and now we see how important it was for the new guys.”
Biggest is not necessarily best
“It’s mad how much everyone has improved” Eoghan remarks. “There is this one guy in our class who started the first game on the D team and yesterday he had a great game with the B’s!” Starting out at hooker, Eoghan found himself in the back row for the same game. “I always thought that the bigger lads would take up most of the positions in the forwards, but while it is a help, being the biggest doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be the best player.” “They were handy for the fitness though!” quips George. “Everyone would always try to run away from them!”
The boys had to wait several weeks before donning their school jersey for the first time. “I couldn’t wait to be part of it. I was at the Senior Cup Final last year and the atmosphere was brilliant,” George recalls. “I was also at the final a few years back when Dave Kearney was playing. My brothers and I ran around after the game trying to get his autograph but we couldn’t find him. My younger brother did his own thing and stopped some guy to ask him if he had seen Dave. This guy pointed in the opposite direction and off my brother ran. We were too far away to do anything about it except laugh as Dave walked on into the changing room with a big grin on his face.”
When the first fixture finally arrived, the nerves returned. “There were a lot of parents there to watch and they took a load of photographs of us in our new kit. It distracted me for a bit but then I remembered that I was about to play my first rugby game,” Gareth admits. “We didn’t know what our strongest team was yet so everyone was being swapped around.” Having been a full back in his debut game, George has since been on a journey through the backline and will start at out-half this weekend. “I haven’t taken it personally and nobody should. It’s all about learning new positions and it’s for our own benefit; our coach knows best.”
“I live in Dubai so I didn’t know much about Clongowes before I arrived but it was still special putting on the jersey for the first time and playing a match with all my new friends. Everyone had done their best over the past few weeks and deserved to wear it.”
“That was the cool thing actually,” George adds. “Everyone gets to play their part.”
Richard McElwee is the new PRO for Leinster Schools’ Rugby. If you have any photos, reports or information that you would like to share with the Leinster Rugby Community please do not hesitate in contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pictures are courtesy of Ms Eilis Dowling.