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Harrison Brewer’s journey from Leinster to Japan culminates in another Terenure final

Son of a former All Black harnesses disappointment at being cut loose by Leinster to lead Terenure’s bid for back-to-back AIL titles

Terenure captain Harrison Brewer in action against Lansdowne. Photograph: Tom Maher/Inpho

Casting a glance at the Energia All-Ireland League round three results on October 21st last, one result stood out. Terenure 0 Cork Constitution 20 at Lakelands Park. Six months on, a repeat meeting in the final didn’t seem likely.

As a club and a team, Terenure College had won their first ever AIL title success five months previously with a stunning 50-24 win over Clontarf. They celebrated long into the night, and many others too, before embarking on a three-match, two-week tour to Argentina which was, apparently, epic.

So, it seemed as they had scaled the mountain top and didn’t have the energy to do it all over again.

“That’s the thing that pissed me off,” admits their captain Harrison Brewer. “Are we going to be a one-hit wonder? I don’t know if we had a hangover. We’d had a big tour of Argentina and I thought: ‘Is this season too long now?’ I don’t think I have ever been nilled at home. We just had to pull the socks up and go again.”


After a round six loss away to Young Munster, Terenure targeted six fixtures against the bottom three either side of Christmas, and a maximum haul of 30 points set them on their way. They arrive in the final with 13 victories on the spin.

No team has won the AIL back-to-back since Shannon in 2006, and no team has ever won the AIL-Bateman Cup double back-to-back, something which Terenure can achieve when they meet Cork Constitution in the final at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday at 4pm.

Terenure's Harrison Brewer celebrates with his mother Beverley Keegan and his uncle Jason Keegan after the semi-final victory over Lansdowne. Photograph: Tom Maher/Inpho

During the 2021-22 season, where Terenure lost the final to Clontarf, Brewer assumed the captaincy from the injured Stephen O’Neill, his long-time club and school teammate and one of his best friends. So on Sunday Brewer captains Terenure in a third successive final.

Now, far from being one-hit wonders, the Sean Skehan-coached side could be something exceptional.

“Sean has mentioned that Shannon team, and some of the names on that team. Now that’s the kind of team you want to be remembered as.”

Brewer credits Skehan with instilling a changed mindset in school and club alike and casts his mind back to the many school kids supporting the home side last week.

“Those first years probably only know us in finals, as opposed to when I was starting off.”

Brewer began playing mini rugby in the club over 20 years ago and attended Terenure College largely at the behest of his uncle, Jason Keegan. “He’d bleed purple, black and white if you cut him open.”

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Terenure's Harrison Brewer makes a break on his way to scoring his side’s third try against Lansdowne last year. Photograph: Tom Maher/Inpho

Now 29, Brewer has recently joined the real world. We met in The Orange Goat in Ballsbridge on Thursday morning, while he takes a break from his job with McSport, a residential and corporate sports gyms company.

“It’s a bit different to the pro life. This is practically my first job. I’m on the road three times a week and I’m enjoying it.”

As the son of Mike Brewer, a 32-times capped former All Blacks number eight, he was destined to play rugby, and was a flanker/number eight on Terenure sides that won the Leinster Schools Junior Cup in 2009 and 2010, before being switched to centre as the school’s dream team lost their Senior Cup semi-final against Roscrea in Tallaght Stadium in 2013.

“It still eats me.”

He went into the Leinster academy and was part of the Irish Under-20s team in the Six Nations and World Cup. The future looked bright.

But, he admits candidly: “I was all over the shop. I couldn’t balance the lifestyle with the rugby. I guess there was a bit of a drinking culture at 20s, and then there was the positional switch as well.”

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The hype around him was exacerbated by the name.

“I think that was the main reason, to be honest. No disrespect to him [his father], but that pissed me off, because I was trying to write my own story. There was always shit in school, players trying to belt me. It was tricky and after the positional change I didn’t enjoy it as much.”

That said, the switch improved his ball-handling skills and defence.

“Did it stunt my development? Potentially. But I didn’t apply myself properly at all. And that’s 100 per cent on me. I was happy to go for a few pints on a Sunday when I had academy training on a Monday.”

With Robbie Henshaw joining in 2016, Leinster released him. “It is a business, so you have to take that on the chin, but it’s hard. What the f*** am I going to do next? Because all you dream about is playing for Leinster.”

Terenure's Harrison Brewer and Alan Bennie celebrate after last year's final victory over Clontarf. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

His dad suggested he come to New Zealand. So, Brewer joined Te Kawau, a country club outside Palmerston North, 20 minutes from his dad’s beach house in Foxton.

“It was humbling, but I learned loads out there. The club would hold raffles for goats and sheep, and hakas, after matches.”

His parents had broken up when he was 12, so as well as returning to the backrow, Brewer was reunited with his dad.

“I haven’t had the greatest relationship with him and I’m pretty open with him about that. We hadn’t really seen each other for 10 years but he really helped me then. He went to all my games, the fecker would even drag me off the field while the game was on telling me what to do. He was brilliant, because he knew it was going to be a do-or-die scenario for me.”

“I got to know him better and I probably got more development there than at any other time in my career. He had a tight whip on me going out after games too!”

His performances for Te Kawau earned him a contract for two years (2016 and 2017) with Manawatu, but when his dad moved to Japan to coach, Brewer followed, realising provincial rugby was his ceiling in New Zealand. After a trial, he was player of the year with NTTdocomo RedHurricanes in Osaka as they won promotion to the Top League.

Robbie Deans offered him a contract with the Panasonic Wild Knights. “He was one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. His man management is probably the best part of his coaching.”

They were based in Ota, three hours outside Tokyo, among rice fields. He played alongside Sam Whitelock, David Pocock and Damien de Allende, and against Dan Carter, Matt Giteau to name but two.

Brewer loved the rugby, culture, food and even accepted the occasional dislike for foreigners, or Gaijin, when being refused entrance to restaurants. “They give you this,” he says, cross-crossing his face with his hands. “But the rugby fans are obsessed, which is great.”

But Covid struck, and when the league stopped abruptly in March 2020, Brewer was sidelined with a broken metatarsal and had been negotiating a new deal. Should he wait things out? Unsurprisingly he reasoned: “It was time to head home to the Ma [Beverley] and sis [Giordan].”

It’s an ill wind and all that.

Terenure's Harrison Brewer in action in the Leinster Schools Cup in 2012. Photograph: Lorraine O'Sullivan/Inpho an

He started up his own coffee shop, Up@Brews, in the Lakelands Park car park, on St Patrick’s Day 2021. The sun split the stones and the club became the community’s heartbeat.

“Chatting to Stevie beforehand he said: ‘The place is a ghost town, are you sure you want to set it up there?’ But some of the queues were down the avenue. No one had anything else to do. People were bringing deck chairs to the car park. It was bonkers.”

The club hosts pilates classes, is installing a sauna and has a fund-raising drive toward building a gym. Terenure have taken off on the pitch too, and Brewer hails the role of Mark Hamilton, the club’s head of recruitment who has helped new players acquire jobs, especially if moving to Dublin from elsewhere.

Brewer’s career may not have panned out as initially hoped or expected, but it has been hugely fulfilling. And, though no longer a professional, this has been the most rewarding time of all.

“You think about that mini rugby when you were seven or eight. You’d love to win stuff with other teams but I think it means a bit more to me winning it for family and friends, and, Jeez, I think the club is just a ball in the last few years, which is where I always wanted it to go.”

His nomadic career tells us that Brewer lives one year at a time. He has no designs to stop playing rugby next season, if no plans beyond that either. But whatever Sunday’s outcome, Brewer confirms that this will be his last game as captain. He believes the baton should be passed on to bring some freshness. The club comes first.

But he has been more than just a captain and talisman. He is the team’s spiritual leader and an emblem of the community. Once more on Sunday, Brewer will lead the Terenure army to the Aviva.

And where he goes, they follow.