Rory O’Loughlin’s resolve strengthened by Ringrose rivalry
Leinster back is another who has been plucked from Dublin 4’s rugby conveyor belt
Leinster’s Rory O’Loughlin. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Ipho
Those close to the St Michael’s College mainframe knew these heady days were coming. But how it all synced up this month was pretty special.
On December 9th Leinster were leading Northampton 20-10 over in Franklin’s Gardens with 65 minutes clocked. Two tries banked and Dylan Hartley in the can for belting Seán O’Brien. Lineout just inside the Saints 22. Jamie Heaslip gathers and the Illuminous pack walks 10 metres before collapsing. Luke McGrath flings a pass to Ross Byrne who doesn’t hesitate in launching a garryowen down Ben Foden’s gullet. The same English fullback who danced past Brian O’Driscoll in the early stages of the famous 2011 European final.
Foden, stranded in no man’s land, turns to see Rory O’Loughlin racing up the left wing to leap, gather and fall over the try line.
“I was looking to see if it was penalty advantage,” said O’Driscoll on BT Sport. “It wasn’t; that was just a tactical play.”
Perfection harnessed on Ailesbury road.
“We had never done that before,” laughed O’Loughlin this week.
Currently there are 13 professional rugby players educated in the Dublin 4 school. Fourteen if Dan Leavy’s younger brother, Adam, a winger in the Connacht academy, makes it.
The others: Cathal Marsh is injured so Byrne is making hay, Denis Coulson is propping for Bernard Jackman’s Grenoble and Nick McCarthy is in the scrumhalf queue, while James Ryan, Max Deegan and Josh Murphy furrow away in the Leinster academy.
Ryan recently tore his hamstring playing for UCD so the arrival of the towering under-20s captain, who led Ireland to the World Cup final last summer, has momentarily stalled.
“Myself, Ross, Dan Leavy, Nick McCarthy and Ross Molony were all on the same senior cup team,” said O’Loughlin, who has made 10 appearances for Leinster this season, four off the bench. “We played together for two or three years in school and then onwards with the Leinster underage system.
“There are people, especially from St Michael’s, saying it is incredible.”
Incredible being coaches teaching young boys the fundamentals.
O’Loughlin crossed over with most of those mentioned above as St Michael’s reached three of the four Leinster senior cup finals between 2010 and 2013.
“It is only now that Michael’s players are coming into Leinster in abundance but there has been a great coaching set-up there for a while,” he agreed. “Andrew Skehan and Emmett MacMahon are at the helm at the moment but when I was there Bernard Jackman was coaching us, so the quality of coaches has been there.”
O’Loughlin even slips in the important party line: “It’s not a rugby-focused school but people do go there to play rugby. It’s now known as one of the top [rugby] schools. That we are competing constantly comes down to the coaches in the school.”
Greg McWilliams – director of rugby at Yale University having moved into the US system after helping the Irish women reached the World Cup semi-final in 2014 – was head coach when St Michael’s finally captured a senior schools cup in 2007. Reid kicked the goals in a 6-0 win over Dave Kearney’s Clongowes.
Despite the flow of outstanding talent, they have managed just one more title since.
A brilliant side, Clongowes had their number in 2010 and 2011 but the Byrne brothers, Bryan and Ed, were denied their three-in-a-row in an epic 2012 decider.
If it will be forever known as the Leavy final, then O’Loughlin must be nominated for best supporting actor. He was superb in a midfield partnership with Rory Kavanagh.
Come the 2013 final, O’Loughlin had moved onto Old Belvedere as Garry Ringrose ran in a stunning 70-metre try. Then he converted it.
That name has denied O’Loughlin’s presence on many a teamsheet since. Still, he is the latest St Michael’s boy to break into the Leinster side, impressing at centre despite the meteoric rise of Ringrose, who has forced him to become more versatile and learn how to play wing. Considering Ringrose is a year younger, the rivalry has also strengthened his mental resolve.
“It’s a strange one. Myself and Garry competed at under-20s as well, where at the start of the season it would have been the other way around and obviously he has gone ahead of me there.
“It is good because we both learn together but it is difficult at the same time when the European games come around with Garry at 13. But we have a good relationship, we are constantly improving each other.
“It just means I have to become more adaptable or when I do get the chance to play at 13 to compete as best I can.
“It will make us both better.”
What makes Ringrose a cut above the rest?
“Garry is very composed in attack especially, he reads the game very well, he’s good at organising forwards and getting the shape in play to get the ball where he wants to get it.
“That’s where I have struggled. Well, I’ve got better at it. At the start of the season I found it quite difficult bossing players that are older than me and play internationally. You have to just forget about all that and realise you are all on the same team.”
Clearly, he is coping, thriving even. With a little help from his friends.