AFTER a highly successful playing career which saw him play All-Ireland League rugby at the highest level and line out for Munster between 2003 and 2009, former prop Eugene McGovern has been making a name for himself as a coach in more recent times. The 33-year-old told Limerick Leader Rugby Correspondent Colm Kinsella about the challenges of his new role as Director of Rugby with AIL Division 2C side Old Crescent RFC.
How did you find the experience of playing with Munster?
“I started with Munster in 2003 when I came out of the Irish U-21’s as it was at the time. It was a World Cup year and Munster had a lot of guys away with Ireland. That was an opportunity for the likes of myself and other guys to come through. I had a development contract with Munster initially before moving on to a full contract. I had a full contract until 2009 when I stepped away from the game professionally. That was when I started off my coaching career.
How many Celtic League games did you play in all?
“I got something like 13 caps with Munster. I made my debut against the Newport Gwent Dragons (October 2003). It was brilliant. Going through school it was all I wanted to do. As a young fella, you have ‘you’re going to play for Ireland in your head.’ I enjoyed my time in Munster, learned a lot that I bring into my coaching practice these days.
“I spent three months in South Africa in 2007 playing with a club team College Rovers over in Durban. It was essentially like an AIL team and the opportunity was organised by Trevor Halstead who was with Munster. The team won the league and cup. It was a good time. I didn’t pick up any injuries.
“I came back and went straight into the Munster team to play Leicester Tigers in Musgrave Park in a pre-season friendly in 2007. I was up against Julian White. I thought ‘this is my chance.’ About 15 minutes into the match, a scrum went down all of a sudden, my leg locked out, and I ripped my hamstring. I did serious damage to it. You are talking two to three months to get through your rehab and into the swing of things.
“I had joined Garryowen at the time. It was hard. I had just joined a new club and was joining there as an injured player. You need to be getting into the side, starting games. If you are not starting on their AIL team you may as well kiss goodbye.
“As the season progressed, it went well. I got my start against Ulster up in Belfast in January. Munster had pretty much a second string side out, due to the 6 Nations, and we beat a strong Ulster side on the night. Off the back of that, I got another contract. Garryowen also won the double.”
What was it like when Munster said they didn’t have another contract for you?
“The following year didn’t go so well for me. It is hard to put your finger on it as to why. You can blame coaches, you can blame this and that. It is what it is and I feel everything happens for a reason. You make a lot of your own luck by what you do.
“I got left go from Munster. I didn’t chose it. I wouldn’t say it to anyone that I just didn’t want to play any more. You can either be bitter and coast through the next year and realise then, but I used it to my advantage. I played with Munster, learned a lot of stuff and used that to my advantage, to progress my career.
“There were a few offers on the cards to go to English Championship clubs, but moving wasn’t the right fit for me.
How did you get involved in coaching?
“I was gone from Old Crescent for two years at the time, but they approached me about the idea of getting involved in the club in a coaching role. In the meantime, Crescent College Comprehensive asked if I would be interested in getting involved coaching there. My plan was to get involved in coaching and develop my coaching philosophy, figure out how I wanted to coach. It was a good way for me to coach the U-20s, get my coaching badges, develop my philosophy, my ideas and as a person.
“I also went into a bit of education, strength and conditioning, with Setanta College. I finished my degree last year.”
Like most Limerick clubs, Old Crescent have experienced a difficult time with relegation in the AIL in the past decade. Why did that happen?
“When someone asks me how the club is doing, I don’t think of it as just the senior team. I see it in its entirety. I look at it at from U-6s all the way up to senior level, from a rugby point of view, but also from a social and interactive point of view. In my opinion, the club works best as a club.
“The club probably had been on a downward spiral for one reason or another. It has a lot to do with the dynamics of the club. Maybe the club had become a bit short-term, planning things year by year by year. It may work ok one year, but the following year you suffer for it.
“We were in the bottom division in the AI. We had hit rock bottom. A group of club members got together at the end of the 2013-2014 season. We talked about the issues, reviewed what had happened and why we were where we were. We needed to figure out where we needed to go from here. The main thing was to put in a structure at senior level. Our under-age is very competitive from Under-6s to U-18s. But we had no transition. We had no U-20s team from the year before, the year we got relegated in the AIL. Essentially, there was no bridge for the young fellas to get through. There was no competitive senior side for the younger guys to stay with.
“I was appointed Director of Rugby. As part of my role I wanted to go in as U-20s coach. The reason is because I am so big on the transition. If you have a guy at U-18 level, he needs to come up to the U-20 level. I had a relationship with guys who had gone through the schools system. I had a relationship with them. That is where the Director of Rugby role came in.”
All clubs have found it difficult to hold onto players because of the jobs situation?
“It is a massive challenge to hold onto players. However, if we have a competitive under-age system along with a senior team which is competing and progressing, you are going to hold onto these players.
“Of course, you are going to lose guys to work, injury, career, bigger clubs. There are so many variables against you. But you have to control the variables you have control of, the under-age system and structures.
“Last year our U-20s had a very successful season. We had a good balance. Guys were playing with their friends. When other clubs came knocking, they stayed put. They felt a bond to the club.
“It is looking after your players. It is all about jobs too. We have a Jobs Committee this year which is working overtime so guys don’t have to go to Dublin. They can stay with the club.
What is the main aim for Old Crescent this season?
“Promotion out of Division 2C in the AIL is the aim for our senior squad this season. It is our ultimate goal in the club. Our initial goal was to put structures in place, coaches, the way we do things and run things. Everything is very transparent to the players. It filters down to players. They see it. It is developing players, coaches and the club environment. However, essentially our goal is long-term. It is not season to season. We have a three-year plan.”