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'There was a good chunk of West Cork up' - Coombes' pride on Ireland debut

The 23-year-old won his first cap in last weekend’s win over Japan.

Coombes after his Ireland debut.
Coombes after his Ireland debut.
Image: ©INPHO

THERE WERE ONLY 3,000 people allowed into the Aviva Stadium last Saturday as the Dublin venue finally welcomed fans back in, but the good folk of West Cork managed to scrape together a fair few tickets for Gavin Coombes’ big day.

The Skibbereen man made his Test debut for Ireland against Japan in front of his immediate family, uncles and aunts, friends, and – as he realised post-match – even a few surprise visitors.

“I think there was a good chunk of West Cork up,” said the 23-year-old after Ireland’s win.

“I’d say there was 20 or 30 here from West Cork. I was walking around the stadium and there were people I didn’t even know were coming and they were shouting, ‘Come on West Cork! Come on Skibbereen!’”

Pride was the main feeling for the Munster man after winning his first cap and there was some emotion in being able to see his parents and siblings after Ireland’s 39-31 win.

“They were delighted. It’s nice because I haven’t seen them all year and this was the year I was actually playing games, so it was incredible.

“I was saying to the lads inside [in the Ireland dressing room] that coming from West Cork, you’re not close to anything and you have to have that backing from family.

“If you don’t have it, you can’t be sitting where I’m sitting. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am.”

gavin-coombes-and-craig-casey Coombes and Munster team-mate Craig Casey. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

It has been some journey for Coombes from Skibbereen RFC into Bandon Grammar School and on to the Munster academy and senior club rugby with Young Munster RFC.

He was a bit of a slow burner initially with his native province but once he fully ignited up this season, there was no stopping him. Every passing week with Munster, every man-of-the-match award, every carry and offload and tackle brought him closer to Test rugby.

He was a little on edge in Ireland camp when they first came together, keen to make a good impression, but he was able to relax when Andy Farrell told him he would be in the matchday 23 last week.

Predictably, his phone blew up with messages of good luck from family, friends, former and current team-mates, and the coaching staff in Munster.

Coombes laughed heartily when asked to recount the words of wisdom that the province’s coaches had for him.

“Graham Rowntree left me a voice note chanting at me: ‘Super Gav, Super Gav, Super Gav!’ and told me he missed me,” said Coombes.

“He’s just a good fella and that’s the way he is with everyone in Munster.

“Johann and Steve text me as well. It’s always good to hear from those lads in Munster because they backed me this year and it’s good to have that backing.”

While Coombes isn’t the kind of character who needs his hand held, he says the players around him in Ireland camp were very helpful in the build-up.

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peter-omahony-and-gavin-coombes Peter O'Mahony with Coombes last week. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

His former Ireland U20s team-mate Caelan Doris was happy to share his experiences, while fellow Munster man Peter O’Mahony and openside Josh van der Flier also have valuable know-how.

“There’s no one keeping their cards close to their chest in this camp,” said Coombes.

And so, Coombes felt eager and ready for his debut last Saturday. As the clock ticked past the 60-minute mark, he was already itching to get on and as he replaced O’Mahony with nine minutes remaining, he was simply focused on making an impact.

Ever the competitor, he would have liked a big moment to leave his mark.

“I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get a turnover,” he said. “I felt like I was on the ball a couple of times and didn’t get one. But just to get on the pitch, I was absolutely delighted.”

Having negotiated his first few minutes of Test rugby against the Japanese, Coombes was less excited about the prospect of singing in front of his new team-mates, as tradition demands.

“I’m not looking forward to it but I have something prepared,” said Coombes. “Hopefully the lads join me because I don’t have the voice to carry the room. It’s not a West Cork tune, it’s something more modern. That’s all I’m giving you!”

Next up, the powerful back row is hopeful of a start against the US on Saturday as he aims to finish a big season with one final positive impression.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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