Saturday 21 September 2019

A friendship forged in Canada has resulted in years of joy

Club focus: UL BOHEMIAN RFC

U-20 prop Stephen Benjamin on the way to victory in the Donal Walsh Plate
U-20 prop Stephen Benjamin on the way to victory in the Donal Walsh Plate

Eoin McCann had to leave Ireland to really appreciate rugby but when he returned to live in Limerick he was determined to stay involved in the game.

The Dublin native went to school at St Paul's College in Raheny. He dabbled in rugby at school but soccer was his first choice, and he played that at UCD.

After he graduated, McCann headed for Canada in 1970, to the US border province of Saskatchewan, and it was only by chance that he ended up back playing rugby, but loving it.

"I was sitting in a pub one day in Saskatchewan and I didn't know very many people over there at the time," said McCann.

UL Bohemians’ James Ryan wins possession in a lineout against Queens;
UL Bohemians’ James Ryan wins possession in a lineout against Queens;

"This guy came over to me and he said: "I believe you are from Ireland?" I replied: "Yes."

"Did you play rugby?" he asked.

I said: "I did in school."

"But I was much better at soccer. I played soccer at UCD, and I rowed as well.

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"Then he went away and came back again, and he said: "Are you doing anything tomorrow?"

I said: "No, as it happens."

The ladies team win the All-Ireland Cup
The ladies team win the All-Ireland Cup

That was it and I ended up playing with them and they went on to win the championship and stuff like that. It was great."

McCann began playing on the wing but moved into out-half where he turned into an established member of the first team for the Regina All Blacks.

But there was a real lack of stability at the club, and the state of uncertainty was a constant frustration for the men who just wanted to play.

"The players would come and go. Part of the problem there is guys don't play anything after school," said McCann. "There isn't anything for them. They don't have Canadian leagues or anything like that. If you had good people they would stay for a while and go away again. We had to start from scratch in a sense."

Wearing a black kit in 30-degree weather was another aspect, but McCann stuck with it and it was a chance meeting that forged an ever-lasting relationship with Bohemians.

The Limerick club were touring Canada when McCann made a few contacts that would be crucial during his return to Ireland.

Club president Eoin McCann
Club president Eoin McCann

"The first decent tour by an Irish club was in 1972. First of all, they were in Ontario. I wasn't from Limerick. I didn't really know about Bohemians," said McCann.

"I knew there was a Bohemians. I knew Mick English and Tom Cleary, and people like that. I didn't know them, but I knew they played for this club in Limerick. I had never even been to Limerick at the time.

Looking

"Bohemians, as it was then, were the sort of team that you were looking for.

"I got to know some of the lads because they were there for three or four days. There were barbecues after the matches and that sort of thing. It was obvious coming back to Limerick that Bohs were the club that I would join."

In 1976 McCann came home, but this time he set up base in Limerick, where he became a lecturer at UL.

He lectured in the areas of waste water treatment, health and safety, and environmental management for 32 years before he retired.

Bohemians, which was founded in 1922, amalgamated with UL in 1999 and McCann was already part of the furniture at that stage.

"I played Golden Oldies for about four years with Bohemians when I was well into my 30s. Then I would go to the games. I was on the committee initially, I was on the selection side of it," said McCann.

"Eamonn Tobin had this idea that I would be getting players from the physical education set-up.

"When Tony Ward came, there was no point going down to the physical education college, even though I knew Tony, I knew he would go to Garryowen.

"I had other interests too - I was president of the Irish Cricket Union, so I was heavily involved with the cricket.

"I used to go to the Bohs' home matches. I went to the odd away match. Then last summer, the lads felt I could do a job, and they asked me to be president. I have done it since."

McCann has enjoyed his year at helm but knows it's nearly time to step aside.

The senior men's team have finished fifth in Division 2A of the All-Ireland League, while the women are on track for a third omen's All-Ireland title in a row.

"There is an awful lot of travelling involved in being president of the club. There are other people to come in too. But I have enjoyed it," said McCann. "I was at all the games this year travelling here, there and everywhere. We ended with 9-9, nine won and nine lost in the league, comfortably in the middle.

Of course, our ladies are triumphant. They have already won the All-Ireland Cup," said McCann. "On Saturday they beat Blackrock and they are into the final of the league against Railway Union in a couple of weeks' time. The ladies have been very strong."

But looking back to 1976, it's almost unbelievable how much things have changed, and McCann was thrilled to have witnessed Limerick, UL and Bohemians' evolution.

"Getting the medical centre, architecture and law and all side of it. It just developed very quickly. You have got a good catchment area.

"We are not fighting against UCC or Galway anymore. We are our own people. We have some very good staff.

"With regards to the rugby, the relationship with the university is crucial. We have training and games on the 4G pitches."

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