Varley aims high for Garryowen


RUGBY/ALL-IRELAND SEMI-FINALS: Momentarily think of Garryowen and you have a vision of a club regularly in at the death of All-Ireland League competitions. Trophy-rich and expectant. Finalists in 1990-91; winners in 1991-92 and 1993-94; runners-up in 1995-96; finalists in 1997-98 and beaten finalists in 1998-99. Their history certainly isn't mute.

Travelling to Cork Constitution this weekend, that past counts for nought as they face into a match against this year's favourites. Con won't like the tag, but finishing top of the league in the first phase brings its own pressures. With Ronan O'Gara, Brian O'Meara, Frankie Sheahan and Anthony Horgan exchanging their green shirts for white, Con have chosen to add to a side that have reached this point largely without their internationals.

Garryowen have also had to adjust but not with the same frequency. Not having yet selected, they have David Wallace and John Langford prepared to step up to the plate with their more regular provincial and club stars.

Colin Varley, the 27-year-old captain, has, with coach Andy Earl, done well in steering the team along the winding route. Varley sees his team as the underdogs but you can't help believing Garryowen will contrive to use that observation for their own benefit.

"This year the younger players in the team have learned a lot in the absence of contracted players," says Varley. "At the beginning of the year we wanted to make the top four and after that anything was a bonus. I don't think we'll sit down now but Cork Con are obviously favourites. They've home advantage, they finished top of the league but I've no qualms in saying that I'm delighted the way things have gone for us this year."

Varley, who from the back row plays a rampaging captain's role in a slightly lighter but mobile Garryowen pack, can look to the last meeting of the clubs in the league and take something from it. When the sides butted heads in February, they drew 12-12 with O'Gara kicking four penalties for Con and Kevin O'Riordan and Cyril Tupiniere running in Garryowen tries.

"Experience counts for a lot but a lot of the guys in Garryowen who have one or two years' experience have got us this far. We are in a good position if we can call on the likes of Wally (David Wallace) or John (Langford).

"I've no doubt Cork Con will be a tough match. Their pack is very strong. When we drew 12-12, we were quite happy to come away with the result and they'd many of their players that day. But I think in the play-offs games will be won up front. It is winner take all and everyone will want to lift their game a notch."

Varley is no stranger to the captain's role having twice led the Irish Colleges side. Although playing with Garryowen since he left school in 1993, he was the colleges' captain when they travelled to South Africa three summers ago. Since leaving Limerick Institute of Technology he has taken up work locally as an auctioneer.

"Sometimes with the captaincy this year I have felt some pressure. But that may have helped my own game because as a result I've spent more time focusing on the All-Ireland League matches and I've thought about them more before hand. But I don't see myself as different or playing a superior role. It is not about individuals."

Varley talks an easy-going game. But the ferocity with which he will lead his team on Saturday should dispel any misplaced thoughts of concession. "I don't want to name players," he says. "But I look at Jeremy Staunton and Killian Keane. Guys listen to them. Tom Tierney and John Langford - there's years of experience and you look at them when things are tight. We'll certainly go there with attitude."