'It was clear from early doors that he would be the standout player'

Ireland call-up Ciarán Frawley was part of a talented Skerries team before advancing into pro rugby.

Frawley in Skerries colours.
Frawley in Skerries colours.
Image: Skerries RFC

THERE HAS BEEN a huge sense of pride around the town of Skerries this week thanks to the news that 23-year-old local man Ciarán Frawley has been called up to Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad for the November Tests.

Pride but no surprise.

They have known all about Frawley’s talent for a long time in Skerries RFC, where the Leinster playmaker played his rugby all the way through to a senior debut in the All-Ireland League five years ago.

“He turned 18 on the Thursday, trained with the First team that day, and played his first AIL game on the Saturday,” says Mark Harrington, the North County Dublin club’s director of rugby.

“He certainly wasn’t fazed. He was well able for it.”

That’s how it has tended to be with Frawley. Any step up the pathway – whether it was Leinster Youths, Ireland underage teams, or into professional rugby – has been fairly seamless.

Frawley was part of a talented Skerries crop who Harrington and Terry Woods coached from the age of eight all the way through into senior rugby, winning an All-Ireland title at U17 level along the way in 2014.

Even in a strong squad, Frawley – who also played in Skerries Community College – stood out from the start.

“Ciarán is one of those freaks of nature – if he played golf regularly, I’m sure he’d be a scratch player,” says Harrington, who is the head of technical services with World Rugby.

CF Frawley pictured in his early days with Skerries. Source: Skerries RFC

“He was very good at Gaelic, soccer, he has just got fantastic spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination and it all just came very easily to him.

“But equally, he has a fantastic attitude. It was pretty clear from early doors that he would be the standout player among them. He had a great work ethic and was a really good kid.”

Some of the best players in the youths system – those playing with clubs – are approached by rugby-playing schools as they begin to stand out, but Frawley was determined to stay put when they came calling.

“He had offers to go off to some of the bigger schools along the way,” recalls Harrington. “I think he was a home bird and wanted to stay put.

“We’d like to think we were doing a good job in the club of supporting him and that’s the decision many of them have to make.”

Ulster lock Alan O’Connor is another who played right through the Skerries system, winning an U16 All-Ireland title along the way, while Connacht flanker Conor Oliver only made the move to Blackrock College for the final stages of his education, winning a Leinster Schools Senior Cup while he was at it.

OC Brothers Alan and David O'Connor came through in Skerries.

O’Connor’s brother and Ulster team-mate, David, also played in Blackrock, while Ireland 7s Olympian Hugo Lennox is yet another product of Skerries RFC.

As much pride as there is within the club about those now playing pro rugby, Skerries are all about retaining players from their youths system to play in the AIL.

Harrington explains that around 10 of the group who came through with Frawley are still playing regularly for the club, with several of them in the first team.

“We’re very mindful of the guys who have stayed for the long haul and are real stalwarts of the club.

“That’s the key for us – we’re absolutely determined that we’re never going to pay any players. For us, we’re dependent on producing players out of the youth structures and so we invest pretty heavily in that.”

The club is in good nick even after the challenges of the pandemic, with playing numbers at all age grades back to where they were before and the senior team making a strong restart in the AIL.

Skerries were top of Divison 2C when the AIL came shuddering to a halt in 2020 and they’ve picked up where they left off this season with three wins from three ahead of today’s visit to Clonmel. A big promotion battle with Enniscorthy has already resumed.

Olivers The Oliver brothers, Conor and Mark. Source: Skerries RFC

Founded in 1926, the club has a rich history including four successive Towns Cups from 1970 onwards, with that some of that team still meeting for annual reunion lunches at the clubhouse before AIL games.

Dr Bill Mulcahy, a two-time Lions tourist and Ireland captain, is a renowned Skerries club man and also one of the reasons Harrington originally became so invested in the club.

“I took a job with what was then the IRB back in 2006 and we moved to Skerries,” Harrington explains. “I didn’t know anyone in the club but walked down just to watch a game and over comes this guy who chats away, insists on taking me for a pint after.

“I didn’t think much of it but when I went back the next week, someone else said to me, ‘You know who that is, don’t you?’

“They explained that it was Dr Bill and explained all about his Lions history. He just made me feel at home and I felt an affinity towards the club.”

Mulcahy’s son, Billy, also came through the club and Billy’s sons are, in turn, Skerries players, 18-year-old Ronan having just recently broken into the First team.

The club has lots of other families involved too, including several Mulvanys and a crop of Marreys. Connacht man Oliver’s brother, Mark, plays on the wing for the First team.

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Ex-Ireland lock Jim Glennon and former Munster centre Killian Keane, also capped by Ireland, are Skerries men too, so there is a proud history of producing players.

Skerries Billy Mulcahy, Hugo Lennox, Dr Bill Mulcahy, and Killian Keane. Source: Skerries RFC

Another legendary figure in the club is the late Sandy Heffernan, of whom there is a bust in the clubhouse. He was Skerries’ honorary secretary for 21 years and a big advocate for their connection with Scottish club Dunbar RFC – which dates back to 1952.

“It’s getting harder,” says Harrington of arranging annual fixtures between the clubs but the link is still strong, as evidenced by several Dunbar players showing up out of the blue for a recent AIL game in the seaside grounds at Holmpatrick.

Skerries have worked hard to transform their home over the last decade, going from one decent pitch with no lights to full floodlights on two pitches, one of which is artificial.

Creating an outdoor seating area at the clubhouse bar during the summer to coincide with six weeks of touch rugby proved a masterstroke, helping to create a buzz in the club and draw in “people we hadn’t seen for years.”

Skerries’ U20s, J1, and senior players all train together and use the same calls on the pitch to create more seamless transitions from team to team, while the club is delighted to have their underage girls programme up and running.

The U14 girls combine with other clubs from the North East region but Skerries now have enough U16 players to field their own team and the club is planning to improve its changing facilities to cater for the growth in this area.

Harrington stresses that the club is about much more than just producing more players like Frawley, highlighting that retention is a massive part of their development plan.

U19 Harrington [back row, fifth from left] with an U19 team that included Frawley. Source: Skerries RFC

“What you don’t want to do is put in these pathways and lads get so wound up about making it onto different panels that when they don’t, they just fall off and away from the game. That’s always a challenge.”

That said, there is no doubting the sense of pride at Frawley’s latest achievement and the impact it has on youngsters in Skerries.

“It’s great for the young kids to see that lads in the same situation as them have gone into professional rugby and made it,” says Harrington.

“We’ve got a bit of a headstart in Skerries because there’s no doubt that if you drive or walk through Skerries, you will see some kids chucking a rugby ball about.

“If you go one way to Rush or the other way to Balbriggan, you won’t see that – kids will be kicking Gaelic footballs around.

“We’ve got a bit of a tradition here with rugby.”

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Murray Kinsella

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