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'Lads are playing GAA up to 15 and then focusing on rugby. That's a massive change'

22-year-old Fineen Wycherley is one of a growing number of West Cork players with Munster.

Updated Jun 9th 2020, 8:00 PM

MUNSTER SUPPORTERS HAVE taken to calling them the ‘West Cork Mafia’ and it doesn’t appear the new production line will be slowing down any time soon.

Recent years have seen a crop of exciting players emerge from West Cork and rise through the ranks in Munster, giving the province a very welcome new source of talent.

Their latest academy intake includes Bandon RFC and Bandon Grammar product Jack Crowley – hooker Scott Buckley hails from Kinsale –  and the province’s fans are already well aware of the out-half’s talents thanks to his exploits for the Ireland U20s.

fineen-wycherley-liam-coombes-darren-sweetnam-and-gavin-coombes-after-the-match Wycherley, Liam Coombes, Darren Sweetnam, and Gavin Coombes. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Crowley is following a pathway that has become far more worn recently, with the likes of Bantry man Fineen Wycherley and his younger brother, Josh, among those blazing the trail.

Second row Wycherley feels Munster wing Darren Sweetnam played a starring role in the rise of West Cork rugby, providing inspiration for the likes of cousins Gavin and Liam Coombes from Skibbereen, the Wycherleys, Bandon’s James French, and Clonakilty man John Hodnett.

Meanwhile, the success of the provinces and Ireland on the pitch has been crucial in attracting more young West Cork people to the sport.

“It’s an amalgamation of different things,” explains 22-year-old second row Wycherley.

“Having Sweets playing for Ireland, someone from a small town in West Cork like Dunmanway, seeing a local hero doing well and playing for Munster and Ireland makes a difference.

“Gavin and Liam Coombes, people see them playing well for Munster and it spurs them on.

“When I was younger, there were very few lads who stuck with the sport. You’d maybe play rugby to a certain age and then GAA would become everything. It’s almost the other way around now – a lot of lads are playing GAA up to 15 or 16 and then focusing on rugby. That’s a massive change in West Cork because GAA, football particularly, is so big.

“Ireland and the provinces doing well gives a good buzz around rugby.

“With more numbers now at training that helps too, especially in West Cork where we might have struggled with numbers before. I think that’s a big part of why people are enjoying it so much.”

fineen-wycherley Wycherley has played for Munster 39 times so far. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Wycherley himself played football with St Colum’s and also hurled in his teenage years but rugby was his first love – his father, Florence, was central to Bantry Bay RFC launching underage teams.

When he started making Munster age-grade sides, the balancing act eventually became too much and Wycherley dropped football when he was 16. Focusing on rugby has paid off, with rising star Wycherley having earned 39 senior caps for Munster so far.

Hailing from Coomhola, just outside Bantry, Wycherley has been back home in beautiful West Cork during the lockdown, himself and 20-year-old loosehead prop Josh training together every day. A playing field near their family home has been handy for running, while the nearby coastline has allowed plenty of dips in the ocean for recovery. 

One of seven siblings, Wycherley has enjoyed the rare chance to be at home, this being his longest stint back with the family since moving to boarding school in Roscrea for fifth and sixth year.

“We haven’t killed each other, it’s been good craic and you’re kinda reconnecting.”

Wycherley has also used the time to get involved with Enable Ireland, a national charity that provides disability services to more than 8,500 children and adult.

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Wycherley recently joined as an ambassador and is currently part of the charity’s ‘Wheel 100 Challenge‘ for June. With Enable Ireland facing losses of up to €1.5million due to the lockdown, the hope is to raise crucial funds.

Enable Wheel 100 JA3_5578 Wycherley is rowing 100km for Enable Ireland's Wheel 100 Challenge. Source: John Allen

The challenge asks people to “wheel 100 times in their own way” as they fundraise and lacking a bicycle, Wycherley has opted to row a total of 100km over the course of June, explaining that there are wheels on the stationary rowing machine that neighbour Frank Conroy – Peter O’Mahony’s uncle – loaned him for training.

With 25km clocked so far, Wycherley says he’s not a great rower but he’s delighted to be involved with Enable Ireland.

“With the Covid-19 restrictions, I haven’t had a chance to go down to their new centre in Cork yet, visit the kids or the adults, but I’ve seen the videos and I know how hard they work.

“With the restrictions, so much fundraising has been cancelled so this is the final push to try and give them a hand to raise the funds they’re missing out on.”

Munster are currently in their off-season, with the players essentially on holiday, but Wycherley is already very eager to get back into training with the team-mates he hasn’t seen in person for so long.

The southern province hope to return to their training centre in UL from 18 June, building towards the IRFU’s planned inter-provincial games on 22/23 August to restart professional rugby in Ireland.

Wycherley was happy with his form in the 2019/20 season before it was put on hold, having started 11 games in the second row and made a further six appearances off the bench. He has used this time to assess his game and feels his ball-carrying is among the skills he can improve.

Wycherley has plenty of experience at blindside flanker – starting seven times there in 2018/19 – but he’s ready for a major challenge for places in Munster’s second row when they’re back in action.

fineen-wycherley-scuffles-with-johnny-sexton Wycherley tangles with Leinster's Johnny Sexton. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

The arrival of World Cup-winning Springbok RG Snyman adds to the existing lock stocks of Wycherley, Tadhg Beirne, Billy Holland, and Jean Kleyn. 

Wycherley welcomes new addition Snyman and says he’s relishing the battle for spots.

“He’s an unbelievable player who has played for an unbelievable team and we will welcome him with open arms. I look forward to the challenge as well.

“All the second rows that have been here were playing well before the season stopped. Tadhg and JK [Kleyn] got those injuries but I think everyone is going to be fit by the time we get back, so it’s going to be a huge challenge.

“I’m looking forward to that, I’m looking forward to learning off RG.

“It’s going to be a long season with a lot of games and hopefully we all get a chance to play. All you can do is make the best out of your opportunities.” 

To learn more about the Wheel 100 Challenge and to register, click here.

First published today at 19.30

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Murray Kinsella

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