Leo Cullen pays heartfelt tribute to former team-mate Tom Tierney

Leinster coach says news of scrumhalf and coach’s death on Friday was `devastating’

Leinster coach Leo Cullen paid tribute to his former team-mate Tom Tierney, who died unexpectedly earlier this week. The funeral of the former Ireland scrumhalf will take place on Thursday in Solohead in Limerick.

Cullen played with Tierney at Irish Under-21 level as well as in various Ireland squads over the years. The former Munster scrumhalf also played rugby with Leicester but before Cullen arrived at Welford Road.

“It’s just devastating news really,” said Cullen. “I just hope everyone rallied around his family. Yeah, it’s hard for your mind not to turn back to Axel then as well.”

Axel refers to Munster and Ireland forward Anthony Foley, who also tragically died suddenly in his sleep from an acute pulmonary oedema in October 2016. Foley was staying at a hotel in the Paris suburb of Suresnes with the Munster squad.


“Guys at that age, jeepers like, 42 and 46. I’m 45, Tom is a year older than I am, Axel is four years older than me – guys that are involved in coaching as well. It’s just tragic, absolutely tragic. Hard to know what to say about it, isn’t it?

“It gives me the shivers, God almighty. I played with Tom for the Under-21s. If you think back, we had a great group at that stage, really enjoyable to be around the provincial mix at underage teams. Just the slagging and fun that we used to have.

“I was lucky to play with Tom on other different teams as well, around Irish squads, Ireland A squads. When I went to England, he had been in Leicester prior to that. Even though we didn’t cross paths at that exact moment, there were lots of stories shared and he’d still be around. Every now and again you’d see him.”

Tierney died last Friday at the age of 46. James Ryan, who captained Ireland to a Six Nations championship win over Italy in Rome also sent condolences on behalf of the Ireland squad to Tierney’s wife Mary and his children Isabel and Julia.

“Tom was a great character, great outlook, always so entertaining. Those underage teams are magical times really,” said Cullen.

“It’s great because you’re all bright-eyed at that age and lots of mischief and fun. Certainly, Tom, Frankie [Sheehan], ROG [Ronan O’Gara] and all that crew, there was plenty of that at that stage.

“In terms of big, physical nines, Tom was great. Very, very strong, and very influential in that 21s team.”

Tierney’s career coincided with that of Ciaran Scally, whose career ended early following a knee injury, and then Peter Stringer.

“Ciaran Scally was a similar age as well and obviously they came through with Ireland at a similar time. Two big 9s,” said Cullen. “And then [Peter] Strings comes through after that. Oddly enough, Strings was a year older than Ciaran Scally was, and Ciaran would have got capped before Strings did, and Strings went on to win 98 caps for Ireland. Ciaran Scally retired on four or five.

“But in terms of big, physical nines, Tom was great. Very, very strong, and very influential in that 21s team. But yeah, jeepers, it’s awful, awful news.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times