Ryan shows the way for young Tipp rugby stars
Club focus: St Joseph's CBS
With Leone Nakarawa and his silky skills already in tow, Racing 92 were determined to become the kings of Europe with the perfect second-row combination to go with their brand new U Arena stadium in Paris.
Their search ended in Ireland, at Munster and with Donnacha Ryan, a 47-time-capped Irish international and Munster veteran. He hailed from the town of Nenagh and attended St Joseph's CBS in his early years there.
shining Ryan is one of the best second rows in Europe presently, even though his side couldn't find their way past Leinster in last weekend's Champions Cup final at San Mamés in Bilbao.
But he still remains a shining example for any youngster looking to make their mark in the game, someone who come from the traditional hurling stronghold, and made it big in a different sport.
Nenagh CBS have been runners-up in the Dr Harty Cup, and Ryan has always revelled in his hurling roots, a sliotar was given to him after Racing 92's 27-22 win over Munster in the Champions Cup semi-final in Bordeaux.
But the former Nenagh CBS student is not the first and he certainly won't be the last to reach the elite levels in a different code, with an egg-shaped ball.
"Donnacha Ryan was a pupil here until third year and then he went into Limerick for school," says rugby master Thomas Lee.
"He would have been the main former Munster guy that we had here at the school. He is a Nenagh man so the young lads here would aspire to be like that.
"He came back a couple of years ago and spoke to the Leaving Certs at their graduation Mass or something.
"We had Trevor Hogan come into us before as well. He came in last year. We run an end-of-year barbecue for the Leaving Certs and all of the teachers. Trevor Hogan was the guest speaker last year.
"He is originally from Nenagh and went to the school here too. He represented Ireland and Munster as well."
Lee is the man driving the rugby dream behind the scenes, along with Gary Millar, in the North Tipperary school. But Lee hails from another GAA heartland in north Galway.
The Headford native began playing rugby when he was only eight, and he played with the local club side Corrib RFC from U-8s all the way up.
But coming from a place so close to the Mayo border, where the Gaelic football rivalry between Galway and Mayo peaks, meant that Lee also had a massive interest in the GAA side of things.
He went on to feature for the Limerick senior footballers for over six years before he retired two years ago, and now all of his efforts are behind the Nenagh CBS rugby bandwagon.
"With every young lad in the country, there is the whole dilemma as to whether rugby is our national sport at the moment," says Lee.
"But there is a huge interest in the game at the moment because of the national and provincial teams are doing so well.
"We have Evan Murphy, he captained Ireland in the schools U-19s. And we have two or three lads in with the Munster academy that would have started off with U-15s here, and with Nenagh Ormond.
"The boys here have a massive interest in rugby at the moment and it's great."
Rugby has always been one of the bigger sports in Ireland, but a year out from the World Cup, and being reigning Grand Slam champions has caused a rugby drive across the land.
And the sport has taken off at Nenagh CBS where they have seen growth on the back of the new 11-a-side rugby tournaments which have been created.
"We got a call from Munster, they were trying to create blitzes for emerging schools that hadn't had rugby in the past," says Lee.
"They created four or five blitzes and the final was in Thomond Park. Our lads got to the final. It was three years ago. They won it.
"It has taken off. We entered into U-16 King Cup the following year, we won that, and we won it this year as well. It's gone from strength to strength."
The Tipperary hurlers will look to win back the Liam MacCarthy Cup this year after a disappointing campaign in 2017, while their U-21 team have failed to win an All-Ireland since 2010 despite plenty of promise but at minor level they have been extremely consistent over the years with titles in 2006, 2007, 2012 and 2016.
Nenagh CBS have been one of the main feeder schools to that county side and they regularly have players lining out for Tipperary in Croke Park.
But with past pupils like Donnacha Ryan and Trevor Hogan, and new avenues opening up throughout the Munster system, rugby looks set to grow further.
"It's a Christian Brothers School, there's nearly 500 students and it's all boys," adds Lee.
"They nearly won the Harty and All-Ireland about five or six years ago.
"We would always have four or five county minors. They have a decent enough soccer team as well, and athletics as well.
"Hurling would be number one. All of the lads bring in the hurls every day and they are out pucking in the green. It's a big hurling school. But rugby doing well now."
The local rugby club, Nenagh Ormond, suffered a devastating loss in the Ulster Bank League Division 2A promotion / relegation final this year.
City of Armagh beat them 33-23 at Palace Grounds on April 28.
It means they will face into another season in the fourth tier next term.
But it's another chance for pupils from Nenagh CBS to filter up through the ranks and get some experience on a big stage.
"We don't have a rugby field in school, it's only a GAA field," says Lee.
"So we would always go down to Nenagh Ormond. They give us the loan of their field any time we ask them for it. They are really accommodating like that.
"Ormond are really a feeder for us more so than us to them. They are at the heart of anything. All of their players would play for us.
"It's really beneficial to both the club and school."
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