Inside the Dublin school gym that made Ireland stars Larmour and Porter

A focus on getting the basics right has helped produce massive results at St Andrew’s College.

A young Jordan Larmour playing for St Andrew's in 2014.
A young Jordan Larmour playing for St Andrew's in 2014.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

DAVID JONES IS sitting beside what must be the most famous pieces of equipment you will find in any school gym in Ireland.  

In was in this spot where he was working with a young Andrew Porter in the mid-2010s, as he had done for the last number of years.

But there was a problem.   

“We literally ran out of weights for Andrew,” Jones laughs.  

“I had to go and buy thin metal plates because all I had were thick bumper ones, and there wasn’t enough room on the bars for the amount of weight that Andrew was lifting. And that wasn’t an ego thing, he was just a super competent lifter with great mobility. He was just crazy strong.” 

There is nothing remarkable about the gym at St Andrew’s College, yet the school, and Jones, have made a name for producing high quality athletes. 

Located at the bottom of the stairs under a long hallway, the first indications that you are entering an area of high performance are information sheets stuck to the walls outside the main entrance, which include meal plans from Leinster Rugby nutritionists and even the right number of chopping boards to own for food preparation.

The gym itself is strikingly tight. A handful of cardio machines face one wall, with racks of weights and kettlebells stacked neatly along the opposite side. 

IMG-0139 The gym at St Andrew's College in Dublin

At one end of the room is a small platform under a couple of suspension ropes. At the other end some medicine balls and more racks. 

This is the room where Porter put in the hard work that set him on a path which led to a Leinster debut at the age of 20 in 2016. 

One year later, Porter’s school-mate Jordan Larmour would make his Leinster debut at 19. 

St Andrew’s did not have a long history of producing elite rugby players, yet here were two of Leinster’s most exciting prospects in quick succession. One was a powerful prop whose physicality was shocking for his age. The other a versatile back who could light up games with moments of magic. 

Both would be senior internationals before the end of the 2018 Six Nations.

Yet Jones, who runs the Strength and Conditioning programme and is a PE teacher at St Andrew’s, explains that it wasn’t the talent that set Porter and Larmour apart. 

“You can spot the work ethic straight away. The work ethic is instant,” he says. 

“They want to get better, whatever the session is. It could be PE, an S&C session, a rugby session, they want to leave that session better. They will be the first on the pitch and the last to leave. That’s from a 12-year-old right up to an 18-year-old. You can just see it. It’s a drive.

“Every single kid who comes into the school has the same access to the same environment that they [Porter and Larmour] did.  

IMG-0137 The selection of weights inside the gym.

“I provided the environment but they turned up and they did the work and were driven from day one.” 

Still in the early stages of their professional rugby careers, the two former students already have Pro14, Champions Cup and Six Nations medals in their pockets. 

Yet despite their high-profile alumni, the rugby programme at St Andrew’s is facing challenges. 

“In this school we are probably seeing more kids choosing options other than rugby,” Jones admits.  

“There is resistance from a lot of parents who don’t want their kids playing the game anymore. It’s a tough sport. 

“Now, we should always be able to field at least one team, but we’re fielding one team at each age group, where in the past we have fielded two teams. It’s tough, and rugby is a huge commitment, particularly as you get older. Our senior guys would train five or six days a week. Now, that could be a recovery session in the gym or it could be a video and light pitch session, but it’s still a case of being involved in the game five or six days a week during the season.” 

Andrews2 Pictures of Larmour and Porter, along with other former students, inside the gym. David Jones is pictured alongside Larmour in second photo from top.

Jones’ day starts with a 5am alarm call, and the first students come through the gym door at 6.45am. The place is a hive of activity, with up to 100 kids looking to use the gym at any given time once the rugby, basketball and hockey seasons end. 

St Andrew’s has never been one of the big rugby schools in Dublin, producing a total of 19 senior Ireland internationals to date. Unlike some of the bigger Dublin schools, kids do not come here in their droves with the ambition of becoming Leinster players.

Instead students are encouraged to try their hand at a multitude of sports in order to improve mobility and overall mechanics. 

The initial focus is on producing athletes, rather than shaping kids for a particular sport.

“We’ve got 12-year-olds coming in who have only ever played hockey, or who have only ever played football, and they or their parents often have closed minds; ‘This is what they are going to do and let’s see how successful they’ll be at it’… but the reality is that the broader the base, the higher the pyramid.  

“You play more sports as a kid; those skills are going to transfer across. And it’s not good to play one sport all year round, it’s the same repetitive movement patterns. That’s what we try and get across. If you are constantly changing direction, and your mechanics aren’t particularly good and you don’t do any strength work, that’s going to lead to problems further down the line. 

“And I always say to kids, weights is one of the few areas that if you put in the hard work and are consistent, you definitely get the reward. You can do all that on a rugby pitch but you can still get beaten.  

“There is always a bit of success in here, so whether it’s a rep, lifting more weight, more push-ups or someone can finally do their first pull-up, there is always some element of success.” 

Jones himself comes from an MMA background, and competed in the days where it was not uncommon to warm-up in the keg room of a pub before fighting a complete stranger. 

tim-mays-and-andrew-porter-at-the-final-whistle Andrew Porter playing for St Andrew's in 2014. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

With that in mind, safety is at the forefront of the progammes he runs. First years don’t touch weights until they have progressed through a series of basic body-weight routines, such as lunges, squats and push-ups. 

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In his 24 years at the college, the basics of S&C haven’t changed, but Jones says he has seen huge advancements in the way kids treat sport and fitness. 

“The biggest difficulty is probably the things that they do when they are not in here. In here, I kind of have control, but I don’t control their sleep, I don’t control what time they go to bed, whether they are prepping their meals, whether they are doing their homework.  

“I can push those things, but it’s all on them. 

“We have this gym open five days a week in the mornings. But to do that… Like, teenage boys are sometimes not great at getting out of bed, but they get into a routine where they are prepping meals the night before, getting to bed early, coming in here to do their workout, they have their breakfast with them, and then they head off to class. Those are life skills.” 

The pictures of Larmour and Porter on a small wall near the entrance serve as a reminder of where that hard work can take you. Leinster clearly see the potential too, and engage in workshops and talks with the school covering topics such as nutrition and injury prevention. 

jordan-larmour Jordan Larmour playing for St Andrew's in 2012. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The school has come a long way from Jones’ early days, and he recalls the gym compromising of a shed with a few weights when former Munster player Felix Jones was a pupil. They are currently planning to build a new gym with an increased floorspace in order to accommodate more students, but even if that project becomes a reality Jones is keen to keep the focus on hard work and looking after the basics.

And there are no better examples than Larmour and Porter. 

“I remember Jordan had his (ACL) injury in fifth year,” Jones continues. 

“On the Friday he had been out to Santry (Sports Clinic), on the Monday he was in the gym.  

“That’s the kind of kid he was. That was December. He was back with the Leinster U18s in June, six months later. He was phenomenal. 

“And then Andrew, when you talk about meal prep and food, Andrew’s Tupperware collection was a sight to behold. He really looked after himself coming up to sixth year. His gym routine, his recovery, his sleep, he had a maturity that belied his age.  

“They were both already professional players in their mindset by the time they left school.” 

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