Cork Con’s Matthew Bowen: ‘There’s a bit of pressure on you representing a big club with huge history’

Last year he helped Terenure win the All-Ireland League. On Sunday he aims to stop them retaining the title and bring it back to Cork intsead

Garryowen vs Cork Constitution's Matthew Bower battles with Garryowen’s Kelvin Langan. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Terenure players won’t be the only ones seeking back-to-back Energia All-Ireland League winners’ medals when they meet Constitution in Sunday’s final at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 4pm). The Cork club’s leading try scorer, Matthew Bowen, played with Terenure for the first two months of last season before work obliged him to relocate home. Even so, the champions’ head coach, Seán Skehan, sent Bowen a winners’ medal.

Now Bowen is one of the main threats to Terenure becoming the first club to retain the AIL since Shannon in 2006. The 25-year-old left winger is the top division’s second highest try scorer this season with 14, 10 of them coming in his last six games.

Two years ago, he’d just completed his Economics degree at UCC when Terenure called. Bowen thought it would be a good idea to try somewhere new, to both live and play.

“The year before Terenure had played very attractive rugby and had reached the final. I thought their kind of rugby suited me down to the ground.


“But the kind of work that I was looking for wasn’t going to become available until after Christmas and I was sitting idle all day long. That’s okay if you’re a professional player but when you’re amateur it’s tough going.

Ending his time at Terenure wasn’t easy.

“I knew what I was sacrificing. Terenure were going to be a very strong side last season but it was definitely the right decision. I don’t look back on it with any regrets, that’s for sure, and I couldn’t say a bad word about anyone in Terenure. But although rugby is a big part of my life I don’t play to the best of my ability if things aren’t right off the pitch.”

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Bowen now works in Global Shares, the Cork-based software company taken over by JP Morgan last year, in an office of about 100 people that looks after employee share plans. “It’s very related to what I studied.”

Con welcomed him with open arms, for it was there that he began playing under-10s mini rugby. Although his father Don was more of a GAA and soccer man, he encouraged Bowen to follow friends up to Temple Hill as he was playing everything else, and he loved it immediately.

Bowen has also revived a familial link with Con. His cousin, Jimmy Bowen, played for the club as well as starring in Munster’s famous win over the All Blacks in 1978. When it was erroneously reported hereabout that Jimmy was his uncle, the latter texted Bowen saying he was “delighted” to have “a new nephew!”.

Matthew Bowen in his CBC is dejected when the referee confirms Glenstal Abbey's win in the 2018 Munster Schools Senior Cup final. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

Despite going to CBC, Bowen didn’t flourish until his final school year, and was grateful his coaches kept faith in him. Christians reached the 2018 Munster Schools Senior Cup final with a team also featuring Bowen’s current Con team-mates Robert Hedderman, Mark Donnelly, Luke Masters and Louis Kahn, but lost to a Glenstal team coached by Skehan and featuring the current Terenure outhalf Aran Egan.

“That was a tough pill to swallow. Fair play to Glenstal, they had a great side. But I hope to God I come out the better end of this final,” says Bowen, whose last-minute try, converted by Hedderman, couldn’t alter that 18-17 defeat over six years ago.

“Somebody snapped a picture of me with my head in my hands just after asking the referee how much time was left. He told me it was ‘game over’.”

Bowen went straight into the UCC Division 1A first team under Brian “Squeaks” Walsh, who always preached: “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”

Combining study with Division 1A rugby straight after school was idyllic for Bowen, albeit the pandemic interrupted the second season and wiped out the third and a big part of his life.

“Like everyone else, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was pretty idle at home, but I purchased some gym equipment and that kept me busy. I went to the park, kicked a few balls, went for a few runs and trained in my garage as well. We got there in the end.”

His fourth and last season with a rebuilt young team was injury-plagued, and defeat by Ballynahinch in the playoffs ended UCC’s time in 1A and hurt more than the schools final defeat.

But overall, they were good years. James Taylor, the prolific Con outhalf, was also a UCC team-mate, as was the Terenure centre Peter Sylvester, and Bowen fully expects to hear plenty of the latter’s voice on Sunday.

Starting afresh in mid-campaign last season with Con wasn’t easy and following a run of games after Christmas, a torn meniscus ended his season.

“It was a really tough year, mentally and physically, on and off the pitch.”

Cork Con’s Harry O’Riordan is tackled by Terenure’s Ashley Deane in last season's semi-final. Photograph: Nick Elliott/Inpho

It fuelled Bowen’s fire though. He trained hard all summer and worked closely with Con’s coaching ticket.

“We have Johnny Holland, Brian Scott, Billy Holland and Denis Fogarty, with their wealth of knowledge of the professional and amateur game, and I’ve really benefited from that.

“And while 14 tries is lovely to hear and all that, there are so many players in the Con squad that it can be underappreciated at times – Luke Masters, Seán Duffy, John Forde, Ronan O’Sullivan, our centre Harry O’Riordan – quality players who do so much hard work.”

Belief has swept through this Con team, with last week’s 40-34 semi-final victory against Clontarf their ninth win in their last 10.

“It was a lovely sunny day at home, which is exactly where we wanted. There was a stage when ourselves and Clontarf were scoring tries back and forth and I thought: ‘Jeez, what a game this must be for the spectators’. It was a brilliant day.”

The final is where the club expects to be and Bowen can also draw strength from Con’s DNA as they seek a seventh AIL title.

“I really felt that when I came back here last season. There’s a bit of pressure on you that you’re representing a big club with huge history and huge names – the likes of Donal Lenihan, Ralph Keyes, Peter O’Mahony.

“We’re delighted to get back to where we think we should be, which is competing on the last day of the season up in the Aviva. But you’d be mistaken to think that it was our aim at the start of the season.”

He pauses and makes the Con mindset crystal clear.

“We want the league, that’s for sure.”