As a student of St Michael’s College, I grew up disliking Blackrock College, why? I don’t really know. I suppose in sport, It doesn’t help when you lose to a rival more often then not. It gets tiring and frustrating. It was a dislike that was built on a lack of reality, and unrealistic reasoning. I think I was jealous, and had admiration underneath the ignorance. I wanted St Michaels College to win so badly. I wasn’t a top level player, by any means, in fact, I was average. I always felt my mind was efficient, like a professional, but my body was too slow, like a Sunday League amateur. [Very] I was lucky to be a Leinster Under 20’s squad member, an AIL player back in the late 90s early 00’s, and an Irish Colleges representative, my passion however, from a young age was in coaching, I was addicted. I loved dealing with people, and enjoyed the intelligence of rugby, and trying to use that intelligence in a way that allowed players to develop and grow in their understanding and performances, and of course, enjoy the great sport for what it is.
However, like all coaches, I needed to win, I was ambitious, I still am, and always will be. The day I lose that ambition, is the day I will become a supporter….I will be fine with that. In March 2004, while coaching and teaching at St Michael’s College, or as Fr Gough would regularly tell me, the small school down the road, the job was advertised for the Blackrock U20’s Head Coaching position. A conversation the next day, with my true mentor and dear friend, the late Noel Turley, changed my mindset completely, and it was the best coaching decision of my life. We agreed, that if I really wanted to be a great educator at St Michael’s College, and make a difference, I needed to assist in bridging a gap between the two schools, and change the mindset of both sets of students, there is a
To be the SCT coach, and coach at Blackrock College RFC, you having a laugh? Blackrock was perceived as the enemy. David Dillon, a great friend, was coaching and playing for the first XV at Stradbrook and coaching at St Michaels college, he had an influence too. After meeting Larry Maken, and my auld chum
Mick Hearty in the Leop Inn for my job interview, I was instantly sold, but I had two other candidates to beat.
Five days later, after the long wait, I got the good news, and got to work on recruiting for the following season straight away. I was so lucky to work with Mick, Shane McClafferty, Tom O’ Donahoe, Decci Smith, the man Denners, and many more. The first season was a learning experience, captained ironically by a St Michael’s man, Peter Foley, a gentlemen. I took a lot of my experience back to the school with me. These boys were hungry, and worked hard, mentally tough young men. They were
very goal orientated and focused, I liked that. We had some cracking wins that year. The stand
out being a McCorry cup win v a strong Trinity side in Stradbrook, with Daniel Barnett (Barney)
contributing massively in his best performance all season. We had some strong nights too,
led by the legend that is Decci Smyth, Our Chairman Freddie Connolly, Enda (The Agent)
Norton, Freddie Corr, Jim (the Butt) Butler, and our other Bagman Mark Fallon et al, what great
They made me and my wife Sarah feel so welcome, you all did. Instantly, we felt an emotional attachment. I was hooked. Sarah still calls the players “her boys”, (while ‘Scotty so Hotty) is her favorite. In the summer of the 2005-06 season, we managed to sign six St Michael’s College men to the club, all SCT players, Royce Burke Flynn, Peter Burke, Donal McGowan, Ben Greer, Erik Sherlock, and Blackrock College RFC club captain, Davy Rowan. Add to that great men from CBC Monstown, CUS, St Gerard’s players, and of course a load from the big school up the road.
We had an encouraging mix. They bought into the vision, and were inspired, like me. We were blown away by the culture at the club. We were successful that season, I do however have one lasting memory.
The SCT Final in 2006, was between St Michael’s College and Blackrock College, and at the time, I was Director Of Rugby at the school, and was getting the usual slagging from the fellas, which at that stage was the norm, although I always felt Barney meant it in a serious way. The final was on a Friday and for the Thursday evening’s training session, the night before said match, as training started, I noticed not one of the St Michael’s fellas were present, 5, 10, 15 minutes past. I was worried, and getting disappointed, thinking they were out with the rest of the past pupils (swords) “on the sesh” pre final. As I looked up from the bottom pitches at Stradbrook up towards the hill, in the dark, I made out the figures of six fellas running down the hill, all togged out from top to toe in their St Michael’s College cup gear, lead by Davy, with ball in hand, coming down, getting booed, and forming a huddle, with Davy talking the usual sh*t, hilarious.
They had purposely waited to make an entrance. It was a heartfelt moment for the squad, and showed just how far we came as a group. The slagging was both ways, but always with the best of intentions. We
had formed a strong bond and were very much Blackrock College RFC men.
Almost the entire 2006 cup winning Blackrock College schools side came to the club the following season. Very Impressive men, winners. Seeing them train and prepare for their week helped me as a coach. It would be wrong of me to single out individuals. Talk about setting high standards. Led by David (Doc) O’Connor and also assisted by Paul Ryan, we won the JP Fanagan League and McCorry Cup double, and had some cracking nights in Stradbrook. I can picture the sessions with Noelie & Sandra behind the bar like it was yesterday, super memories, all friends for life.
At the Rock lunch at the end of that year, David O Connor (Doc) and David O Brien (Kipper) forced me up to sing ‘rock boys are we’…… there is a line men, all in good jest. I was happy to listen to it after wins, as the boys sang it full on with the dressing room door open most times!!
That year was cracking. Being coach of the St Michaels SCT, winning the cup for the first time was special, and I will never forget the support I received from the club. I will always remember that. From supporters, to the Senior 1st XV, Junior players, the Women, right down to the U20’s they showed support (Gave me plenty of slagging too don’t worry). I’m sure I will never experience it as a coach again. St Patricks Day fell on a Sunday, and Blackrock College RFC had the JP Fanagan League Final the next day, bank holiday Monday, v Trinity. Tony Smeeth, the true gentleman, and sportsman that he is, agreed to move the game from the Sunday to the Monday.
The morning after the SCT win, having breakfast with my family, before heading to Stradbrook for the
final ,(sober, as I was planning a biggie after the match), a young kid, maybe 10, came up to me and asked “Sir, are you the St Michaels coach” I proudly said “Yes young man” all the kid did was look at me, laugh, and sing ‘64, 64, 64’, followed by shouting “64-1, haha, that is ridiculous, basically, you are crap” You can only laugh, ah well, back to reality with a thud. That day, after the JP Fanagan League win, I rang the principal of the St Michaels College, Mr. Tim Kelleher, and explained that I was going to be late in on
Tuesday, “Tim, I might be late in tomorrow, so late in fact, I might get to see you Friday”. I got the family down to the club, along with Mark McDermott (Macker). All I remember was sitting on a curb with Decci Smith and my missus, while the birds were singing (the feathered type). I made it into school that day, slow day, slow day. Things have changed since then of course.
The following season started with a Pre Season tour to Portugal, the boys trained so hard that week, we received great injection from the school that year, great squad men. Gavin Green was front and centre. Now, that fella enjoys life, king of the fun. We had a no drinking rule on that tour, bar one night mid week, and we all got stuck into it, as a management team, we were delighted with their attitude to take the week as professionally as we did, I truly believe it was the reason we won the double again that year.
The mid week sesh in Portugal was designed as a fancy dress night, we had to bring
costumes with us. Decci, arrived that evening, dressed as Scooby Doo, I’m only recovering now 7 years later from the laughing cramps. This was where I met AJ McGinty & Ian Madigan for the first time. I knew them of course from my teams playing against them, class footballers. I was excited to coach them both, along with some other talented players, Daragh Fitzpatrick, Barry Kelly, James Ronan and Jan Simon Byrne along with our great Captain Zach Farivarz to name but a few.
Ian stood out as the hardest working player I have ever coached. Each day, I was at Stradbrook with him, either kicking or passing. He was so focused on success, and we all know where he now sits, best of luck to him, a fantastic role model for young players, I learned many a valuable lesson from him.
At the moment, I am living in America, and coaching Yale University and the USA Collegiate All Americans. I was lucky enough to be with the Eagles this summer in preparation for the World Cup. I got to spend a small bit of time with AJ. Big and strong, with an exceptional mind for the game, a very different physique to that of an U20, but a similar mind, a cut off Alan Senior. He is making big noise over here, and is incredibly popular with the players and the rugby public, a real crowd hero. To think (at the time of writing), from that team alone, we have two 10’s playing at the World Cup for two separate countries, gas stuff.
Decci will take credit for shifting AJ from 9 to 10. I’m gonna give him that one for the sake of the article, although I have a different scenario in my head, as will Mike, and Shane, we all probably claim the shift, but Decci was the ring leader, and he provided so much experience to the coaching team, and for me personally. However, Decci and AJ were on a level above. The two of them were as thick as thieves, they were never too far away from each other. Of course Decci would very much be keeping AJ’s feet firmly on the ground with post games rants, wrestles and jagers. To see AJ now, is impressive. He has developed into a world class player.
I am so grateful for my time at Stradbrook, and have made friends for life. My experience at Blackrock College RFC helped me develop greatly both on and off the pitch. The very best of luck with your season in the AIL. I’m sure you will be back in the top flight in no time, where you rightly belong.
Regards for now,
Greg McWilliams, Head Coach
Blackrock College RFC U20s, 2004-2008