THE BOUNCING FULL-BODIED mop that is James Lowe’s hair was an inescapable element of Leinster’s joyous post-final whistle celebrations in Bilbao.
The dark blue suits, leaping in between the delirious and exhausted matchday players was an instant reminder of a cliche which good team leaders always touch on: it’s about more than the 15 on the field, there is a wider squad who bring it all together.
In the case of the Champions Cup final, the men sporting shirts and shoes rather than shorts and boots were the few who were caught between two stools last Saturday. There were many more men who played an important role in Leinster’s preparations to reach the European summit. They were stationed far from San Mames, riding the emorional rollercoaster as they watched the tense 15-12 win gathered in the Ealing Trailfinders’ west London clubhouse.
A core leader of that group is openside Peadar Timmins. A powerful and robust back row, he is a year removed from signing his first professional rugby contract and so his appearance on this month’s list of impending departures from the eastern province came as something of a surprise.
Timmins’ own announcement was an eyebrow-raiser too, the Wicklow man revealing that he was not seeking to suit up in another club’s number seven shirt. His education was taking priority over rugby.
Timmins took on bio-medical engineering in UCD as a means to keep an element of the human body in his studies as well as his physically taxing day job. But with that degree in his back pocket, the next step is now a Masters course in Notre Dame University.
He will swap south Dublin for South Bend, Indiana after earning a place in the Esteem Graduate Programme – Notre Dame’s initiative to enrich people with a scientific background with an entrepreneur’s sensibilities.
Timmins is fit and well, 24 years of age with all the pedigree of Europe’s best rugby production line behind him. He would not have had much trouble finding a club at which to further his rugby career. Instead, he has put it on hold, prioritising his long-term prospects over the rarely reliable career path of rugby.
It’s a brave decision. Breaking free of any career path is a hard thing to do, but being a professional sportsman is something deeply ingrained in us all as an inspirational ideal. Yet it’s not ideal for everyone.
“I had some pretty tough decisions to make over the last few months,” Timmins said after sitting down with The42 this week.
“I was weighing up whether to pursue rugby. Leinster’s my boyhood club and I always really wanted to play for them. It was a tough decision between studying abroad.
But when this opportunity came up it was something that really appealed to me… I just said I’d give myself the chance to do it.
“For the year anyway, and see how it goes.”
This is not a retirement and Timmins isn’t turning his back on rugby. Far from it.
Notre Dame boasts a long-established rugby club and the Wicklow man plans to keep a whetstone for his skills while there. He has also been in touch with Joe Lydon, head of the IRFU’s talent identification programme which has a pre-existing relationship with Notre Dame.
“If I can add some value to that, that would be great,” says Timmins, who gives the impression of a man who won’t let the absence of a professional contract diminish his professionalism.
Just as he was coached to do in Leinster, Timmins the student will train his focus on the short-term. Or, at most, the foreseeable future. He is looking forward to sampling American life, seeing the hype of College Football first hand and making the odd 90-minute trip to Chicago — not least for Ireland’s November Test against Italy — anything beyond the year he is about to spend in Indiana is very much on the back-burner.
Therefore, any potential of the Baltinglass man joining the smattering of Irish names playing international rugby for the US Eagles is far from the stove. The new five-year residency rule certainly provides a higher hurdle to enter that Test scene than the current Irish-Americans progressed through.
Still, having broken off the treadmill, Timmins sounds like a man refreshed and freed by the possibilities that come with his change of direction.
“You never know what will happen in a year. If you had have told me this would happen a year ago I wouldn’t have believed you.
“I wouldn’t say no to anything right now. I’ll be there for a year and you never know what kind of opportunity comes up.”
A native of Baltinglass, Timmins grew up on a diet of gaelic football. It was only when he took up school in Clongowes Wood that he found himself trucking up the oval ball alongside the powerful twin threat of Bryan and Ed Byrne, who have been a constant presence with him through Schools Cup successes, Ireland U20 honours, academy and Leinster senior squads since.
I started off as a loosehead prop on the Bs in first year in Clongowes, so I wouldn’t say I took to it too quickly! After a year I moved to the back row, thankfully, and I haven’t looked back since.”
“I played GAA with Baltinglass up until minors, then you start getting involved in the Leinster underage setup; schools, 20s and you have to make a decision. I kept it going as long as I physically could really. Then I joined the academy here and rugby takes hold as the number one focus.”
With today’s match against Munster bringing knock0ut rugby, it strikes us that Timmins may have just returned from his last meaningful training session with Leinster.
Steeped in professionalism, the openside isn’t ready to countenance the idea of marking his ‘last’ anything or saying any farewells just yet.
Instead he hopes for another week of preparing the front-line internationals for action, pushing them as a competitor for the jersey or replicating the approach of the opposition seven.
However, there is no escaping the fact that he is about to leave Leinster behind after working his way up through the academy to represent the senior side on 13 occasions.
He achieved those honours with hard work and focus. Everything up to this point has been taken in stride. His next steps will be no different.
“You never get too far ahead of yourself. I was just concentrating on the team I was involved with, then the next game. If you take it like that, play your best in each game then these things just happen. It’s a natural progression.
Never got too far ahead of myself, always kept an eye on my studies as well, kept the engineering going throughout and I’ve just been lucky to live out a few people’s boyhood dreams, me included. I feel very privileged.
“Looking back on it, it’s been a really enjoyable journey.”
Timmins will be among the men in suits, primed to run and celebrate if the result in the RDS goes Leinster’s way this afternoon. It could be another highlight to carry with him across the Atlantic. Many of those cherished moments, though, have come in B&I Cup action for his province.
The competition is much-maligned, particularly by the clubs who lose players to it, and has been made defunct ahead of next season. However, all season long Leo Cullen has made a habit of squeezing a mention of the A team’s exploits into his media addresses.
He has a large squad to keep happy and so framing the B&I as a third tournament on top of the Pro14 and Champions Cup is a helpful underline to the squad effort mantra.
“It’s hard to pinpoint a moment,” says Timmins when asked to pick out a highlight, perhaps even more difficult when the club’s high point of the past six years came in the past week.
“Obviously getting your first cap is something that you’ve dreamed about coming up through, so that’s a special moment.
We had a great comeback with the B & I team over in Jersey a few weeks ago which was absolutely crazy. It was a great experience to share with the lads. It’s just unfortunate we didn’t win the B & I Cup, but at least the seniors got the job done to soften the blow.
“One of the highlights is watching the lads winning the Champions Cup: you’re training with the lads every day for years and it leads to that. I was just delighted for them, you see the hard work that goes into everything.”
Whatever Timmins points himself toward a year from now, even without a minute of Champions Cup action to his name, to the people at the coalface who matter, he will remain a part of Leinster’s Europe-conquering season.
“The level of detail from all the lads, everyone really buying into what we’re driving towards has been absolutely brilliant.
“I hope I can use those learnings now in future life.”