Johnny Quill hopes to get a chance to show former team-mates what he can do

Cork-born flanker has no regrets about taking the line with adopted nation

Simon Zebo and Peter O’Mahony visit the Houston Space Centre with the Irish squad yesterday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Simon Zebo and Peter O’Mahony visit the Houston Space Centre with the Irish squad yesterday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 


First thing you notice about Johnny Quill is his size. Second thing is that unmistakable Cork lilt. Third is his USA training gear.

It need not be viewed as a negative, just circumstances, but how did this 23-year-old flanker slip through the Munster system? It’s the usual Irish bottleneck problem. When Quill was seeking a Munster contract, the queue behind David Wallace was fairly long. Tommy O’Donnell and Peter O’Mahony were not interested in being elbowed out of the way.

Nor will they be tomorrow. O’Donnell and Quill may even land into the fray from the bench at around the same time.

Not many people would know Johnny Quill. Ulster Bank League people do. Dolphin people were happy to fly him back from the States for five matches this season. Munster youths folk would know plenty about him too.

The rest of the Irish rugby fraternity will be seeing him for the first time as an American. And due to his mother Eileen, who hails from New York, that’s what he has become. But tomorrow, around the 50-60 minute mark if one of America’s professional backrow of captain Todd Clever, Biarritz’ Scott LaValla or the mammoth Northampton rib-crusher Samu Manoa shows signs of fatigue then this proud son of Youghal will be ready.

There is also an opportunity if the USA’s semi-professional secondrow partnership is struggling as LaValla and Manoa are equally proficient locks.

Why America? Well, Fergus Quill met Eileen on a GAA trip to New York way back when. Eventually Eileen came back with him to Cork. The challenge now for Quill is to find his own way back. Tomorrow is the start of a shop window period. He had a few trials in England and is dead keen for the next few weeks to go well. People are watching.

Between six and seven
“He hasn’t spoken about it but we understand it would be massive deal for Johnny if he gets on,” said US coach Mike Tolkin. “He kind a falls in between six and seven because he is quite a big boy. Right now we are using him at both spots and in the classic sense he is a digger but his ball carrying ability means we are getting more towards using him at six.”

Mercifully, Manoa is on holidays from next week, having soldiered through a marathon season with the Saints before facing the Lions in Hong Kong. So Quill should start against Tonga. Anyway, last Wednesday he sat down to discuss the odd situation of preparing to face his own people.

“I’ve been working towards this for the last few months. It is a great opportunity. It would be an honour to play against Ireland, a lot of the guys on the team I would have known and played with and against.

“Myself and Dave O’Callaghan, who is in the Munster set-up now, grew up together playing whatever sport we could get stuck into. I played with Youghal until under-14s then joined Sunday’s Well and went on to play for UCC for a year until I got a bad neck injury.”

He got enough exposure in the Munster youths system for Dolphin to recruit him when the injury cleared up. Then he broke his leg. But not before playing for Ireland under-19s.

After two years in the Munster sub-academy he was deemed surplus to requirements. Squeezed out of the bottleneck.

On the rollercoaster
So he went to Boston. Not to play rugby but to do what young fellas tend to do during the summer months. “Yeah, I went over to take the foot off the pedal but it ended up being the opposite way around. I was very lucky to get an opportunity to play.”

And play well enough to get on the rollercoaster he’s currently riding. “The following summer I send over my videos to Mike (Tolkin) and came over for a trial game, did well, and got called up to the A team, did well there, and two weeks later I was straight into the senior set-up. We toured Wales and Romania.

“I got my three first caps. Now this is my second tour and I am very much after buying into it. Guys are from different countries and haven’t grown up here but there are huge expectations about how we want to kick on, towards the World Cup.”

Sounds awfully like the American dream. But hold up. We know Quill isn’t a dirty player but we have to ask about the red cards. “In my first tour with the A’s we were playing Canada and I was corner flagging it, got there, went to grab his jersey but he had long hair, way down his back, it was an accident but I got a red card and a one-game ban. Then, on my first senior tour, in our last game, there was a scuffle, we’ll call it, against some very big Romanian boys and I just got a red card along with one of their boys.”

You remember the punishment Richardt Strauss got in his first cap for Ireland against his native South Africa last November and wonder if something similar will be visited on Quill tomorrow.

He wouldn’t mind at all.