John McClean was ‘royalty’ in schoolboy rugby, say former players

UCD coaching role gave convicted abuser ‘more status’ in sport after he left Terenure

John McClean (76)  was sentenced to eight years in prison last week over the sexual abuse of 23 boys in Terenure College between 1973 and 1990. Photograph: Laura Hutton

John McClean (76) was sentenced to eight years in prison last week over the sexual abuse of 23 boys in Terenure College between 1973 and 1990. Photograph: Laura Hutton

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Convicted child abuser John McClean, who was a former teacher and rugby coach at Terenure College, held a position of “royalty” within schoolboy rugby even after he left the south Dublin school, former players have said.

McClean (76) was sentenced to eight years in prison last week over the sexual abuse of 23 boys in Terenure College between 1973 and 1990.

McClean was also head coach of the Leinster schoolboy development team for a number of years in the mid-1990s. He was assistant coach of the Ireland Schools team during a 1996 summer tour of Australia.

McClean travelled on the schoolboy team’s Australia tour despite the father of one of his victims reporting the abuse to Terenure College earlier that summer, according to a source familiar with the Garda investigation.

The abuse was reported near the start of the summer to Fr Robert Kelly, the then prior provincial of the Carmelite Order who ran the school.

McClean still travelled on the six-week Ireland Schools tour, which began around mid-July and ended in late August. He was removed as a teacher after admitting to the abuse during meetings with Fr Kelly, shortly after returning from the tour.

The trial heard that, when providing gardaí with notes of the meeting during the investigation, Fr Kelly said he had no recollection of McClean’s admission but if it was in the notes then “it was true”.

Scholarship programme

After he left Terenure College he took up a role as director of rugby in University College Dublin (UCD), which included overseeing its rugby scholarship programme.

Peter Bracken, one of the players on the 1996 Ireland Schools tour, said he had never witnessed the “dark side” of McClean.

Reading details of how the coach had abused multiple Terenure College pupils left him feeling “disgust and disappointment”, he said.

From the early 1990s onwards McClean held “royalty” status within schoolboy rugby, Mr Bracken said. “His role as Leinster and Ireland Schools coach would have been to scout out players, and go to schools games,” he said.

“He did have a privileged position in schoolboy rugby. I don’t know how he used that, for good or bad, but there was opportunity there.”

Mr Bracken played professional rugby for several clubs, and in recent years was involved in the Ireland Women’s coaching team.

Jonny Davis, another of the 1996 squad, who went on to work as a strength and conditioning coach at Ulster Rugby, said he was “shocked” by the abuse revelations.

Unbeaten

The team, which included future Ireland internationals such as Peter Stringer, Leo Cullen and Simon Best, went unbeaten in Australia.

During the tour players were accommodated in family homes of the hosting schoolboy teams. Players who spoke to The Irish Times could not recall what the accommodation arrangement had been for the coaching staff.

One former player who McClean coached at Leinster and Ireland Schools level said he would have gained “more status” following his move to UCD, given his sway over scholarships sought after by schoolboy players.

A UCD Rugby Club source said given McClean’s role he would not have been out of place on the sideline of any schools games. He retired as UCD director of rugby in 2011, but remained involved in the club’s coaching set-up for at least two years afterwards.

Leinster Rugby, the IRFU and UCD have all said they were not aware of any abuse allegations related to McClean’s coaching roles outside of Terenure.

UCD did not respond to queries on whether it sought any references before hiring McClean as rugby director after he left Terenure.

Ex-Irish rugby captain Brian O’Driscoll - who was coached by McClean in the 1990s - this week hailed the “incredible bravery” of those who testified against the abuser.

Speaking publicly for the first time about McClean since the sentencing, O’Driscoll told Newstalk radio on Thursday evening: “From my own point of view, what has upset me is the knowledge that every time I might have spoken in a positive manner about him, what that must have done to those poor victims, how that must have impacted them, how it must have been like a knife in the stomach to them, hearing someone speak glowingly about someone who has had such a negative impact on their lives.”

O’Driscoll, who once described McClean as “influential” in his development as a player, said: “He was the first person to move me from out-half into the centre. And a bit like everybody else over the last ten days, what’s come to light, the levels of abuse, over the last 40 or so years, I have been as shocked and appalled as everybody else.”

Asked about the manner in which McClean was able to move from Terenure to UCD, O’Driscoll replied: “It’s totally unacceptable and it can never happen again. That’s what these predators do, they move between positions, praying on the vulnerable again, identifying who they are...

“I look back on any of my dealings with John and I think he’s a total and utter fraud. I can never look back on the conversations I had and take them at face value because of what went on in previous years.”

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