Connacht back row Cian Prendergast. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

From Syria to World Cups: Prendergast brothers doing family proud

Cian is fighting for a place in Andy Farrell’s squad, while Sam shone for the Ireland U20s this year.

THERE WASN’T MUCH rugby in Damascus, Syria when the Prendergast brothers spent 18 months living there during their youth.

23-year-old Cian, a senior Ireland international fighting for a place at the World Cup, and 20-year-old Sam, who starred for the Ireland U20s this year, are now rising stars in Irish rugby.

It was around 2008 when their father’s work brought the family to war-torn Syria. Mark Prendergast was a Lieutenant with the Irish Defence Forces and his role at the time was as a peace-keeper with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization. It was one of his many stints overseas. Mark’s wife, Ciara, was a commandant so the military history is strong in the Prendergast clan.

“At the time, we would have been kept away from what was going on,” says Cian of living in Damascus.

“That trip wasn’t as dangerous, he [his father] has done others that were a bit more. 

“When you are seven or eight or nine, you can’t really comprehend what is going on around you. But when you think back on things, it was pretty mad but it was cool, you got to see a different side of the world, you got to see a different culture, and we got to travel all around the Middle East. To be able to say you got to do things like that is cool.”

He recalls trips to Jordan, Lebanon, and South Africa, while there were lots of other Irish families in Syria at the same time as the Prendergasts.

Remarkably, one of their neighbours ended up on the same Ireland U20s team as Sam this year.

“It’s mad, Diarmuid Mangan, their family was there with us,” says Cian.

“They were a few doors up the road from us in Damascus. Sam and Diarmuid grew up together and they’d be close family friends.”

diarmaid-mangan-and-sam-prendergast-celebrates-after-the-game Diarmuid Mangan and Sam Prendergast were neighbours in Syria. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

There were army families from Australia and New Zealand there too, as well as other foreigners working for the Shell oil corporation, so the Prendergasts had lots of English-speaking friends. The boys went to an American government-run school, where they played soccer, basketball, and other sports, but not rugby.

The stint in Syria ended with a remarkable trip back home to Ireland.

“We drove home from Syria. We bought a car and Dad drove from Syria to Turkey, through Greece, Italy and France and got the boat home,” says Prendergast.

“That was pretty cool, over two or three weeks. We got to see a lot of cool places.”

Having settled back in Kildare, the Prendergast boys made their name in rugby at Newbridge College where they showed their potential to go onto bigger things. 

For Cian, that involved a move to Galway to join Connacht’s academy after he missed out on a spot with Leinster. Less than a year later, he had signed his first senior professional contract and he has become a key man for the western province.

He made his Ireland debut last November against Fiji and he’s now part of the training squad preparing for the World Cup. Back row competition is fierce but Prendergast is ambitious and determined. He’ll hope for a shot in the first warm-up game against Italy this Saturday.

“It’s actually mad to think we are coming to the end of this kind of pre-season block and we are into Test matches,” says Prendergast.

“I think no stone has been left unturned between nutrition, recovery, physio, strength & conditioning and then the rugby as well, I think we’re really onto something hopefully it’ll show now in the coming games.”

Of course, he was glued to the Ireland U20s’ thrilling journey to the World Rugby Championship final in South Africa earlier this month, given that Sam was a key figure at out-half.

sam-prendergast-is-congratulated-by-his-brother-cian-after-the-game Sam and Cian after the former played for Leinster against Chile last year. Tom Maher / INPHO Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

It was a campaign tinged with sadness and Cian was an anxious spectator throughout.

“That week of their Fiji game, I think I was probably the most proud I’ve ever been of him, watching him come on against Fiji when the tide was going a little bit against them.

“You could see that the game could go either way and he kind of dealt with it quite maturely and just watching him grow as a person and then ultimately they went to beat South Africa in the semi-final, the host nation.

“Yeah, just incredibly proud. At the same time very, very nervous. I don’t enjoy watching those games that much.

“I think I know how my parents feel now. It’s funny to be on that side of the fence.”

It wasn’t Sam’s physical well-being that Cian worried about, just that he would be happy with his performances.

“I just wanted him to do well,” says Cian.

“I just want him to play well, to show the best version of himself and I think after them not getting the win against England and beating Australia, I think it’s just because he’s in such a vulnerable position, place-kicking as well, it’s kind of, whoooo, a bit nervous here but I trust he works really hard.”

While Cian is a few years ahead of Sam on his professional journey, he does his best not to give advice unless it’s asked for.

Sam has joined the Leinster academy and his older brother knows he will find his own path. He’s there when called on.

“At the end of the day, we’re just trying to be brothers for each other,” says Cian.

“I think we’re not kind of trying to coach each other. I think he gets enough coaching. He has enough people telling him what to do.

cian-prendergast Cian during pre-season with Ireland. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I just try to wish him best of luck and if you need someone to talk to, then I’m there most of the time.”

There’s no doubt that Sam and his parents are proud of what Cian is achieving as he now jostles for a World Cup spot.

Further down the line, the Prendergast boys seem likely to come up against each other on the pitch.

“We actually have chatted about it kind of jokingly but yeah, I’m sure the day is going to come,” says Cian.

“I would have liked to play with him but we’ll see what happens.”

It could well happen in a green jersey not too far in the future.

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