Friday 14 December 2018

Promising bolter from Wexford seizing his opportunity

Daragh Small hears how versatile back-rower is making the most of his chance out west after being rejected by Leinster academy

Connacht players, from left, Paul Boyle, Eoin McKeon, Peter McCabe, and Dominic Robertson-McCoy prior to the Pre-season Friendly match between Connacht and Wasps at Dubarry Park in Westmeath. Photo: Sportsfile
Connacht players, from left, Paul Boyle, Eoin McKeon, Peter McCabe, and Dominic Robertson-McCoy prior to the Pre-season Friendly match between Connacht and Wasps at Dubarry Park in Westmeath. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Larry Kehoe sells Massey Ferguson tractors in Camolin, outside Gorey in Wexford and Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien is one of his biggest customers.

The Kehoe brothers are involved with the local rugby club and that meant Gorey RFC benefited from some inspirational talks from the 'Tullow Tank' over the years, and Paul Boyle was one of the budding talents present to hear the words of wisdom from the Lion.

Paul Boyle of Connacht wins a line-out. Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Boyle of Connacht wins a line-out. Photo: Sportsfile

Now in Galway, the 21-year-old is a rising star of the Connacht back-row, and he could well face off against O'Brien in an inter-provincial derby down the line.

But there is a bigger picture for Boyle, and his sole focus is on playing for Connacht and accumulating as many minutes as possible in his second season out west.

A natural born leader, he settled in right away, and after he captained Ireland in the U-20 World Rugby Championship in Georgia he claimed the Academy Player of the Year award in his first season in Connacht.

It was testament to his efforts at club and provincial level. Boyle was a star for the Connacht Eagles and Buccaneers but the highlight of the season came with his first PRO14 appearance against Munster.

This season he has started both PRO14 games and crowned a man-of-the-match performance against Zebre with two tries in the opening half after impressing new coach Andy Friend in pre-season.

"At the moment it's going really well. But you always want more. I am always searching for more. If you start resting on your laurels that's when things go wrong. I am always looking to push on and get better. That's the plan," said Boyle.

"The next goal is make it extremely hard for Andy Friend to drop me. I need to play as well as I can and get as many games and minutes as possible, and make it impossible for him not to pick me.

"Further on from that, from a team point of view, it's to win as many games as possible. Our goal is to go out and win it. From a personal level, play as much as much as I can, but from a team point of view it's to go out and win the PRO14."

Younger

Boyle started out as a prop at Gorey RFC, when he and his younger brother Mark joined the local club.

But throughout his youth, he played soccer and GAA, and even though he gave up the former in his early teens, he played football and hurling right the way up.

"I played it all growing up. Then I gave up the soccer because that was the one that always clashed with the rugby. I gave it up when I was 10 or 11," said Boyle.

"But I always kept the hurling and football going until I was about 16, 17. I played a few games of minor when I could. I kept that up the whole way up.

"The rugby got going, and there was a south-east development squad level at U-15. I just said I was going to concentrate on that and then play hurling and football with the club. But I never went on to play county level."

Boyle eventually chose rugby over life with Castletown GAA club and his athleticism and leadership qualities meant for a big future in the game.

"If I compare it to other sports I was just better at rugby. It was just the sport I was best at it and I got the most enjoyment out of it. I loved playing hurling and football but there is no career in that, and even if there was I probably wouldn't be good enough," said Boyle.

"It was the option of going and spending hours and hours with your head in books between studying hard for your Leaving Cert and college, or it was spending hours and hours on the training field and doing what you love.

"It was the love of the sport that pushed me to try and go as far as I could."

Boyle went to Gorey Community School and he was involved with Leinster Rugby at underage level. But there were no academy prospects for him ahead of the U-20 World Rugby Championships in Georgia.

"It was two months before the U-20 World Cup. It wasn't working out at Leinster, they were going a different route. They didn't want me. So they made their choice that way," said Boyle.

"Then it was in around World Cup time. I worked really closely with Colin McEntee (the IRFU high performance manager), who was over at the World Cup with us.

"He was a really big help at the World Cup. I basically said I wanted to give the rugby a go because I felt I was good enough. He pointed me in the right direction.

"Then about a week after the World Cup I got a call from Nigel Carolan who had coached me at the Six Nations earlier that season, asking me to come to Galway and chat to Connacht.

"I was there with my dad and we always said it was a very homely club. We like what we saw with Connacht.

"It reminds me of a club, like Gorey at home. There are no allegiances, they are just there looking after you. It's a community really. That's the big plus about Connacht really."

Brilliant

Boyle was brilliant in his first season at the Sportsground, and his performances at training and with the Eagles were rewarded with a big day out in Thomond Park.

"I went into the Sportsground in late July. And I was about three weeks late for pre-season because of the World Cup," said Boyle.

"I trained with the academy until about November. There was a couple of injuries with the seniors so I started training with them. I have been with them since.

"You can do as much training as you want. It's all about playing games. I played against Munster and playing for the Connacht Eagles as well. I played a good few times in the B&I Cup and that helped me big time.

"Working with Mossy Lawlor and Ambrose Conboy was a big help too. It's all about hard work," added Boyle.

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