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Meet the latest star to leap from the GAA into rugby

Inspired by Tadhg Furlong’s success, Wexford’s Brian Deeny is proving you can beat the system and still make it as an underage international.

Brian Deeny at Ireland's training camp.
Brian Deeny at Ireland's training camp.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

TADHG FURLONG BROUGHT a swagger into Wexford. The whole county could see it. Certainly Brian Deeny did. Suddenly, there seemed to be a world beyond the parochial rivalries that are the foundation and the cornerstone of sport in Ireland.

He looked at Furlong’s background and saw a mirror image of his own, Furlong being a Gaelic footballer at Good Counsel in New Ross; Deeny at St Peter’s in Wexford town. But their passion lay some place else.

When Tadhg was coming through, there was just an awe surrounding him,” Deeny, the Irish U20 international, said. “How he could go from a GAA school like that and be so good at rugby. You just thought: respect.”

Now Deeny is the one bucking the trend, disproving the theory that if you want to make it in this tough old game, then you have to be privately schooled.

Of course, this is still the route the majority take. All you have to do is look at Andy Farrell’s team sheet for Saturday’s game to realise there’s a system in place where a small number of schools churn out a high volume of internationals.

But every now and then someone else comes along, a Sean O’Brien, a Furlong and now, a Brian Deeny.

You may already know him. You may have seen him shine in last year’s U20 Six Nations when Ireland won a grand slam; you might have spotted him scoring a try against England in last summer’s World Cup. Or maybe it was his cameo for Clontarf in last season’s All-Ireland League semi-final which sticks in your memory.

brian-deeny-runs-in-to-score-a-try Deeny scores a try in last year's U20 World Cup. Source: Pablo Gasparini/INPHO

One thing you shouldn’t forget is he’s done it the hard way, leaving school a year early to chase his dream, moving from Wexford Wanderers to Clontarf, battling his way through their U20 side, getting a taste of life in Division 1A. “Some teams, like Cork Con, Garryowen and Lansdowne – they’ve huge players, so to get yourself physically ready for the U20 Six Nations, well it clearly helps. The quality of the rugby is there.”

It is quality of attitude coaches look for. No grand slams, Champions Cups or Pro14s were ever won on the back of daddy’s cheques. If you’re good enough and you want it more, they’ll spot you.

Clontarf saw something in Deeny. The move there was a good one. Then he caught the eye of Noel McNamara, the Ireland U20s coach. It wasn’t just that he could switch from second-row to back-row that impressed as much as his ability to get back up after he’d been knocked down.

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Last summer, his World Cup looked over before it had even began – an ankle ligament injury appearing to end his tournament. “I was devastated. It happened in the last training session before the tournament and it doesn’t really hit you until you go home, get told how bad it actually is, that you think you’re not going to get the chance to go over.”

But he did get the chance. The ankle healed. He got back across, scored that try against England. He doesn’t give up on things easily.

“I suppose when you’re coming out of the club system, you probably wouldn’t be as recognised or as acknowledged as some of the schools lads,” Deeny said. “I got dropped. I never played U18 Schools or U18 Clubs & Schools (for Ireland).

“Things like that drive you on because you’re more jealous of the lads who got the opportunity. It pushes you a bit more.”

He’s still pushing.

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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