From Barnhall’s mini leagues to Ireland’s frontrow Marty Moore refects on his rugby journey

Moore’s ambition now is to make the international number three jersey his own

Marty Moore is proof, were it needed, that the Leinster system, and specifically their Talent Identification Programme, works. The 24-year-old prop revisits summers being taught the basics on a daily basis by Leinster academy coaches from the age of 14 and specifically the summer of 2007, as a 16-year-old on a tour of South Africa.

For three or four weeks beforehand, the squad trained like professionals in Riverview before Leinster went to Cape Town and Durban for three weeks.

“The Western Province game was a big win and we got to play in Newlands and Kings Park in warm-up matches. We’d had a professional set-up before we left in Riverview, and trained every day for three or four weeks before we left, so basically living as a pro rugby player for a summer at 16.”

Others on that summer tour were Noel Reid, Dominic Ryan, Jack O'Connell, Darren Hudson, Tom Sexton and Dave McSharry, and that taste of a professional rugby career pretty much sealed the deal, although it was already all Moore wanted.


“I was coming home from training one day with my granny (Katherine Farrell) in her car and said something along the lines of: ‘If I don’t play for Leinster, I’ll basically be a failure.’ I was having this life changing epiphany in her car, coming home, at 12 years old. Yea, at 12 or 13, my goal was to play rugby with Leinster.”

At 15, in his transition year at Castleknock, one of his work experience placements was with Leinster. “I think it might have been 13 or 14 players in my age group. We got a week or two off from school to train as professional players, so it wasn’t a new environment when I left school and became involved.”

A frustrating season

After last season’s breakthrough year, when he played 28 games for Leinster and five for Ireland, it’s been a frustrating season so far, with just two games in September/October, before his recent run of three starts for Leinster, after toe and shoulder surgery.

Ironically, both return games were against Cardiff and against Gethin Jenkins, and while he felt confident enough, only when he negotiated the first scrum inside five minutes did he feel good about himself. “No matter how much you train, it is something that you don’t know which way it’s going to go. It’s just a matter of getting in there and doing it, and against lads like (Adam) Jones and Jenkins, it’s always a good test. Everything held up fine at that first scrum and the confidence was fine for the rest of the game.”

It was a similar story against Castres. The French outfit had picked a strong front-row, with Moore up against the Tongan-born, thrice capped All Black loose- head Saimone Taumuepeau and Michael Bent up against the first-choice Pumas tighthead Ramiro Herrera. Less than three minutes in, cue the first scrum – a big moment in Moore's and Leinster's day.

“We really hammered it home I think, with that first scrum,” recalls Moore. “ Psychologically it was such a big advantage, and it is a nice way to settle into a game. You’re into it and there’s no worries.”

Rugby’s physicality

Even though there was no scrimmaging in his formative years, he had been drawn to rugby’s physicality from the off. His family are from Lucan/Celbridge and he learned the game through Barnhall’s mini-rugby section from the age of six. Moore’s younger cousin, Seán Farrell, also plays in Barnhall, having converted from a scrum-half to flanker. “He’s after taking a bit of a spurt,” explains Moore. “He’s 6’ 7” and 14 years old. His dad, and my uncle, John (a scrum-half), also played up there.”

His father’s family was more of a gaelic football family, and uncle John was the only family link with rugby, and it was he who brought the young Moore up to Barnhall. “I loved it from the start.”

Reared as an only child to Martin senior and Leona, his dad worked in security and for the past 10 years or more has been installing house alarms and tv systems. His dad and grandfather, another John Farrell from his mum’s side, go to pretty much all the Leinster matches and as a tea-totaller, his dad is the designated driver. His uncle John is away on business a lot but comes to games also when in town.

A big hero

Trevor Brennan, needless to say, was a big hero. “I still have a medal at home from a camp I went to when I’d say I was 11 or 12 years old. He had a rugby camp the summer before he left for Toulouse in Barnhall. I did a lot of those over the years when I was a child and that was the one I enjoyed the most. I learned a lot from him and he let me train with the older boys, and that was a big thing going from mini rugby into the whole school cycle.”

Castleknock was the obvious choice of school given its rugby ethos and that it was on the other side of the Strawberry beds. “My parents thought it was a great school and I thought it had a great rugby team, so it was a perfect match. I absolutely loved those years. Out of friends and guys I played rugby with, I have the same friends I had when I was 12 or 13 years old. As well as the rugby and the education, that was the best part – the friends I made there. ”

Moore played on a strong, dominant Leinster team through schools, under-18s and 19s, making the Irish Schools Under-18 side for the 2009 Six Nations and a debut against Wales at Musgrave Park. Ticking all the under-age boxes, he went into the Leinster sub academy, and went to the Junior World Championships in Argentina in 2010 as a late replacement.

“They’d told me if you don’t hear anything for five days go ahead with your plans. So on the fifth day I flew to Germany to meet my friends and I got a call from Mick Kearney, the manager of the under- 20s at the time. He said: where are you? Can you make a flight to Argentina in the morning?’ I was in the country (Germany) for six hours.”

“So I flew back, came out of arrivals, swapped bags and took my new IRFU bag up to departures, I slept the whole way there.” The drive to Paraná was six hours long and Moore made Michael Kelleher, a Munster player also called up to the squad, sit in the front with the Argentinian taxi driver while he stretched out in the back.

Play-off win

The next day, without a game in three weeks, he played the full 80 minutes in the play-off win over Samoa, and again against Scotland four days later. “Strange circumstances, but I got to play two games in a

World Cup

. ” There followed an under-20 Six Nations campaign but a shoulder injury did for his chances in the Under-20 World Championships.

Lansdowne Under-20s and senior team for one season (half an hour for the former and 80 minutes for the latter), along with the Academy and Leinster A games continued his developement until he came into last season without a start for Leinster, and on a development contract. He ended up playing 28 games, starting 16 of them, and making his first five appearances for Ireland, all off the bench, in a Six Nations’ winning campaign.

Once again, he has demonstrated a degree of confidence and independence in opting for another one-year deal.

“I suppose if you’re unlucky enough to be injured it doesn’t matter if you are on a five year deal; you’re not going to be paid five years of your contract so you’re only really backing yourself against a loss of form. I think as pro players, if there is room for improvement, so there is no reason not to back yourself and push on. Niall (Woods) would always be supportive; he wouldn’t have pushed me in one direction or the other. He is a good man to bounce ideas off.”

“So that’s kind of my reasoning behind it. It’s not that I don’t want to stay with Leinster for the next 10 years. I just want to be able to assess where I am, 12 months down the line because I suppose you never can tell what is going to happen from one week to the next in pro sport.”

He hopes this will be another breakthrough year, this time with the Irish squad. To that end, he has returned from injury in the nick of time, and while Joe Schmidt might go back to Ross for a starting place this Saturday in Rome, Moore's elevation to starting tighthead in Leinster's recent European Cup games is further evidence of his progress.

He has good memories so far of the Irish number 18 jersey, but has ambitions to earn the number three jersey, and like everyone, can help occasionally thinking of the World Cup. “It’s been in the back of everybody’s mind I think for a long time. There’s obviously the domestic season to get through and Europe and Six Nations like everything kind of plays onto the next but it’s, it’s kind of, the aim of the game I suppose is to get to the World Cup and make selection.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times