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'It was a very proud moment especially because I'm the older brother'

Fineen Wycherley has had a strong season for Munster and trained with Ireland last year.

The Wycherley brothers in action against Clermont.
The Wycherley brothers in action against Clermont.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

IT WAS ONLY back in the dressing room in the bowels of Stade Marcel Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand that the Wycherley brothers had a chance to really feel a bit of pride.

With a beer in hand, Fineen and Josh toasted the achievement of playing together in one of Munster’s most thrilling wins in the Heineken Champions Cup last December. 

21-year-old Josh had started at loosehead prop in the biggest game of his career so far, recovering from early struggles in the scrum to be one of Munster’s best players. 23-year-old Fineen made a big impact off the bench in the closing half-hour.

There was one particularly nice moment where Fineen offered a few quiet words of encouragement to Josh before the latter helped Munster to a big scrum penalty.  

“It was a very proud moment especially because I’m the older brother,” says Fineen of playing with Josh on that memorable occasion in France. “At the time in the game, you really don’t think about it, it’s more after where you appreciate it.”

The boys from Bantry plan on having plenty more big days ahead of them with Munster, as Josh gets set to advance from the academy onto a senior deal next season while Fineen moves into a new two-year contract. 

“It’s a great auld buzz,” says Fineen. “All my brothers and sisters, mum and dad, uncles and aunties – it’s a family affair and it’s great, they’re all in.

“I’m delighted for Josh, he worked very hard over lockdown last year and I had no doubt that when he got his opportunity, he’d be ready.

“I’ve grown up wanting to play for Munster and over the last few years, I’ve grown into that spot. I’m picking up different things from different people here. Playing with Josh and other lads I grew up with, there’s a nice group of us and it’s just a great time to be playing here.”

Wycherley is speaking as he promotes Enable Ireland’s Wheel 100 fundraising campaign, which he took part in last year too. He got through 100km of rowing last June but will be steering clear of the rowing machine this time around.

Enable Ireland Wheel100 06 Wycherley and Joshua Fitzgerald O’Brien at the launch of Enable Ireland’s Wheel 100 Challenge 202. Source: Liam Burke Press 22

“I’ll do a bit of cycling, I’ll keep away from the rowing machine because that kinda killed me last time, to be honest,” says Wycherley, who is disappointed he hasn’t been able to visit Enable Ireland’s centre in Cork due to Covid-19 restrictions.

He has plenty on his plate on the rugby front even as the longest and strangest season ever nears its conclusion. 

Playing without crowds has become normal after the “weird” first few games in empty stadiums and Wycherley echoes many other players when stressing how privileged they have been to keep playing and training together while everyone else was stuck at home.

The West Cork man has enjoyed a fine campaign for Munster, making 20 appearances so far and featuring in the province’s three Champions Cup games. His physical impact has been impressive and continues to grow, while Wycherley has also been working hard to add new skills to his game.

He never called lineouts as a younger player, having always been seen as a more traditional tighthead lock who concentrated on carrying, hitting rucks, tackling, and mauling, but Wycherley has put a major onus on himself to learn how to call the set-piece.

“I was always in that number four slot up until a year or two ago and now I’m trying to add another string to my bow and get more comfortable with the lineout calling,” he explains.

“It’s a difficult skill and I probably took it for granted a small bit at the start but I’ve added more time to it, sat down and spent time on it, so it’s starting to become a bit more natural to me. I’ve been enjoying the challenge of getting better at it.

“It’s nerding out at the laptop, the hours watching the opposition, putting out a menu, and being confident in the menu. You have to be in it, watching and seeing different pictures in training.”

He has been learning from more experienced players around him and highlights the “huge” influence of the soon-to-retire Billy Holland, who is a lineout obsessive. Wycherley has appreciated being able to bounce ideas off Holland and lean on his “bundle of knowledge” calling the lineout in big games.

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Wycherley says he’s been happy with the chances he has had to play in Munster this season, which has also seen him involved in senior Ireland camp for the first time.

fineen-wycherley Wycherley at Ireland training last October. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Last October, Wycherley trained with Andy Farrell’s squad before the rescheduled final two rounds of the 2020 Six Nations and says it was a learning curve as he appreciated how quickly players need to take on information in short spaces of time at Test level.

“It was really enjoyable, really challenging and I learned a lot,” says Wycherley. “I was only up there for three days with the lads and they were all sound and inviting, people would grab you for a chat.

“It’s difficult because there’s a lot of information thrown at you straight away and you’re learning new calls and plays, learning on the go. But everyone was really open to helping you out, which I was a small bit surprised by. I wasn’t sure if lads would be as open as they were, but there was always that feedback – ‘be a bit wider here, work a bit earlier here’ – and it was very helpful.”

Ireland will be missing locks Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne for the two July Tests against Japan and the US this summer due to their Lions commitments, meaning Farrell has scope to look at other options in the second row.

While Wycherley would love to be involved, he highlights the fact that there is important business ahead for Munster next weekend in the Rainbow Cup against Zebre, with a big win potentially qualifying them for the final.

“Of course it’s going to be in your head but you try to put it to the back of your mind,” says Wycherley. “This Zebre game is incredibly important for Munster and you can’t decide on [Ireland] selection, so that’s out of my control. I can control my performances for the team here.”

Enable Ireland’s Wheel 100 Challenge 2021 is asking people to sign up in June to wheel, scoot or cycle 100 times, in their own way, this summer to raise vital funds to support disability services. Sign up on www.enabeleireland.ie/Wheel100

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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