Lions backroom: Crowley and O’Reilly all geared up for a trip to South Africa

Irish pair important members of the Lions backroom team for the forthcoming tour

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Gemma Crowley

Role: Team Operations Manager

The Cork native has upgraded her role as a Team Services executive on the Lions tour to New Zealand in 2017 to that of Team Operations Manager for this summer’s tour to South Africa.

Having qualified from Coláiste Naofa in Sports and Exercise Science and Sports and Leisure management, she gathered experience at a number of high -profile sport events before joining the IRFU.

She was manager of the Ireland team that won a Grand Slam during the 2012 Women’s Six Nations Championship, a role she fulfilled when the national side finished fourth at the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup in France where they beat New Zealand at the pool stage.

She also oversaw the Women’s Sevens national team programme.

She was a team services pool manager at the 2015 Men’s Rugby World Cup managing the operational and logistics requirements for five teams, Ireland, France, Italy Canada and Romania.

Other positions that she fulfilled on a short term basis included football training venue manager at the London Olympics in 2012, player and welfare consultant at Manchester City football club (2016) and matchday compliance manager in the Pro12 (2016).

Crowley was part of the IRFU team with responsibility for hosting the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup in Dublin and then joined the British & Irish Lions logistical team for the 2017 tour to New Zealand as a team service executive.

She was general manager at Rugby Travel Ireland between January 2018 and September 2020 before moving to take up her current role with the Lions as the full-time Team Operations Manager for this summer’s tour to South Africa.

Patrick ‘Rala’ O’Reilly

Role: Bagman for the British & Irish Lions

Patrick O’Reilly, known to one and all in rugby circles as Rala, will undertake a fourth tour with the British & Irish Lions this summer to South Africa at the tender age of 73, 12 years after his first jaunt with the iconic composite team from the four Home Unions and six years since he retired from the role as bagman to the Ireland rugby team following the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Born in Inchicore as one of nine children to Paddy and Helen O’Reilly, the family moved to Templeogue and he attended Terenure College where rugby proved to be a passion after short-lived flings with the Scouts – he was thrown out for setting fire to a bush – as an altar boy and in what was formerly known as the FCA (Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil), now called the Army reserve.

Initially a secondrow in school, he was switched to hooker, a role more suited to his eclectic talents.

He made the short journey to Terenure Rugby Club whom he served with distinction. His introduction to the role of bagman came in the 1983-84 season with the first team.

He ‘graduated’ to fulfilling that remit for Leinster underage teams and then the senior side before in 1994 he was approached to do likewise with the Ireland team. For a brief time Rala was a bagman for Terenure, Leinster and Ireland and at that point decided to give up the day job as a rep for Colet Products.

He didn’t go to the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa because in those days the host nation provided two bagmen for all the competing teams. The Irish players wanted him to travel unofficially but he turned down the invitation.

Rala spent 21 years as bagman with Ireland and became a much-loved confidante of players and coaches; trips to his room to collect shorts and socks on the night before a game, as well as the prospects of sweets and chocolate was a cherished distraction.

He was a sponge for the players’ mischief. He recalled: “During my almost 21 years as bagman to the Ireland team I have often walked back to find ‘my room’ in the corridor of a hotel; the mattress lying up against a wall, the base of the bed neatly disassembled, lockers, table lamps, every conceivable fixture and fitting, and even the pictures and paintings, stacked in a row.

“On one occasion they wallpapered over the door to my room from the inside, which left me completely disorientated. The players have locked me out on more balconies than I care to remember and another time imprisoned me in a laundry cage, hiding me temporarily behind drapes, while the then coach Eddie O’Sullivan gave an important team briefing.”

The Lions under head coach Ian McGeechan first availed of his services in 2009 for the tour to South Africa. He was introduced to the squad and backroom team as ‘the Lions baggage master.’ Rala replied: “I am a bagman. The day I become a master is the day I’ll stop.”

When Warren Gatland took over for Australia 2013 he insisted that Rala, 65 years young at the time, continue in the role. Eight years later that standing order still applies.

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