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Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 1 April, 2020
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Cork Con man Quinlan takes pro rugby shot in the south of France

The 23-year-old out-half has joined Fédérale 1 side Narbonne.

TOMÁS QUINLAN IS just coming off the beach in 30°C heat when we speak and he’s happy to report that his new life in Narbonne has been “pretty perfect” so far.

The 23-year-old out-half joined the French club in July after impressing consistently for Cork Con in the AIL in recent years.

Many people in Cork rugby are firm in their belief that Quinlan should still be part of the Munster system, but he was let go by the province in 2016 after one season in their academy.

Tomas Quinlan, Liam OÕConnell and Liam OÕConnor celebrate Quinlan celebrates Cork Con's AIL title in 2017. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Having shone for Con since, Quinlan now gets the chance to be a professional player with Racing Club de Narbonne Méditerannée, two-time French champions but currently facing into a season in the third-tier Fédérale 1.

Narbonne are ”pretty confident of going back up” to the Pro D2 at the first time of asking, according to Quinlan, who is sure to be a key figure in the number 10 shirt, with the club kicking-off their Féd 1 season at home to Céret this evening.

Quinlan is a former Ireland U20 international – his dramatic last-gasp match-winning penalty at the 2015 Junior World Championship made headlines – and he has harboured pro ambitions since Munster released him.

A brilliant season for Cork Con in 2016/17, when the club won the AIL and four other trophies, led to Quinlan receiving a phone call from rugby agent Tom Beattie, who had been tipped off that the out-half had professional potential.

Quinlan opted to finish his degree in Business Administration at CIT in 2017/18 before working with Beattie to find a club ahead of this season.

There were “ifs and buts” with a few clubs they spoke to before Quinlan agreed to head to South Canterbury in New Zealand’s Heartland Championship, the plan being to work his way up through the ranks of Kiwi rugby.

“There was no obligation to sign a contract there or anything but I was 24 hours away from booking flights, had confirmed the move, and my agent called me,” says Quinlan. “He was roaring down the phone, ‘Don’t book anything yet! A club wants you in France.’”

With former Northampton scrum-half Johnny Howard, now based in Béziers, linking them to Narbonne, Quinlan soon signed a deal and found himself heading for the south of France.

Tomas Quinlan Quinlan in action against Clontarf earlier this year. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I said if I didn’t do it now, I’d never do it,” explains the former Christian Brothers College, Cork student Quinlan. “I suppose there’s the odd person who makes it when they’re 25 or 26 but I said if I didn’t go now, I might not get another opportunity. So here I am.”

Temperatures of up to 40°C when he first arrived meant sleepless nights but with English team-mate Shay Kerry putting him up, Quinlan has settled in quickly. His French isn’t strong but lessons will start soon and communicating on the pitch hasn’t been an issue.

Narbonne have naturally scaled back their budget this season, but their facilities are good, with a 12,000-capacity stadium, as well as 4G and grass training pitches alongside it and a gym underneath one of the stands.

Before taking the leap, Quinlan did seek advice from best friend Ryan Foley, the former Cork Con scrum-half who played in France with Nice and Grasse before joining English Championship side Ealing this summer.

“He said the first two months would be tough with the different lifestyle and just trying to get stuff done,” explains Quinlan, who is a superb goal-kicker.

“But Ryan said we’re getting lucky with the chances we got because we’re living in the south of France and getting paid to do what we love.”

Quinlan also got in touch with former Munster men Frank Bradshaw-Ryan at Nevers and Steve McMahon in the nearby Carcassonne, with both speaking positively of their experiences.

“There’s actually hundreds of AIL players who could come out here and play,” says Quinlan.

“Even off the top of my head, there’s a few players in Con who could come out and pick up a contract, it’s just trying to get in the door.”

Tomas Quinlan kicks a penalty Quinlan played for the Ireland U20s in 2015.

The door at Munster closed for Quinlan just a year into his time with the academy and he found dealing with the setback tough initially.

“I came back from the U20 World Cup on a high and was going through the year playing 15 and 10 with Con but not getting a whole lot of exposure to senior training with Munster or the A matches.

“I got told I was being let go at the end of the season. I suppose they didn’t see me in their planning for the future. At the time, it was gut-wrenching, as you can imagine. You think it’s the be-all-and-end-all but now it’s a learning curve.

“I got over it quicker than I thought I would. It was basically just put the head down, go at it and try to prove them wrong. I felt I did that with Con.”

Indeed, Quinlan speaks highly of how his club helped him to move forward and focus on improving as a player, with head coach Brian Hickey encouraging the playmaker to enjoy the sport more while stressing to him that he was good enough to play pro rugby.

Quinlan reflects on his five years with Con, from winning an U20 All-Ireland under Brian Walsh in his first season to the major success in 2016/17, with great fondness.

“It was unbelievable playing in Con and everyone in the club was so helpful. All those coaches over the years and to end up with Brian Hickey, who had coached us in school and we’d lost a Senior Cup.

Tomas Quinlan Quinlan is a superb goal-kicker. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“To win an AIL under him and Paul Barr and Paul McCarthy was cool. Con definitely got me to where I am today, along with Christians.”

Moving on from Con was tough but the opportunity to have a go at pro rugby is one Quinlan couldn’t miss and he’s hopeful that the move to Narbonne is only the start for him.

“We’ll hopefully get promoted. To play Pro D2 next year would be massive. I want to keep kicking on and maybe see if somewhere else opens up. I suppose the ultimate goal would be to get back home but that’s far, far in the distance.

“At the moment, I want to focus on Féd 1 and hopefully get into the Pro D2. Once you’re there, everyone’s watching it in France. It will be a good learning curve anyway.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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