Sunday 24 February 2019

'The move to Munster has been a dream one for me'

Big Interview: Ciaran Parker

Ciaran Parker going through his streches (far right) with teammates Sam Arnold, Arno Botha, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Conor Murray, Darren O'Shea and Andrew Conway. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ciaran Parker going through his streches (far right) with teammates Sam Arnold, Arno Botha, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Conor Murray, Darren O'Shea and Andrew Conway. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ciaran Parker

Tighthead props and central midfielders don't exactly come hand in hand. One plays with an egg-shaped ball where they look to be the linchpin of the scrum and lineout, while the other tends to be a box-to-box footballer, vision is key with speed and fitness a necessity.

Ciaran Parker plays his rugby in the Guinness PRO14 and Champions Cup presently but he could very well be operating in the English Championship battling relegation with his Bolton Wanderers team-mates.

Making the breakthrough into the elite of English football is always a long shot, even when the scouts pay a visit on more than one occasion. And were it not for a lack of mobility the Manchester native may have had a very different career path.

"I was playing with the Stockport Vikings when I was 12 or 13. We played in the Manchester League. There was a good few lads whom I played with and against that have gone on to play with the Man City and United youth teams. We mixed it with the best," says Parker.

"Angus Gunn, who made his debut for Wolves against Chelsea recently and kept a clean sheet, played; there were a few who I went to school with, Michael and Will Keane, a few lads who have gone on to make it.

"But I had a few scouts come to watch me. They watched three or four of my games and talked to me at the end of the block. They said I had the skills but I didn't really leave the centre circle. It was funny looking back and I am happy it happened because I wouldn't be playing rugby other than that.

"You are just enjoying it at the time. I was quite big at a young age and I was doing well in the rugby anyway. I said I wasn't going to ponder on trying to reignite my football career at that stage.

"Within two or three years I was in an academy set-up playing rugby instead."

Parker had a Manchester United season ticket up until recently and he still goes to the matches whenever he gets a chance to return home. He has watched on fondly as the club has been reborn under the leadership of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but the Old Trafford side are no longer his favourite side in red.

Racked

It may be tough to admit it, but the 23-year-old former Sale man is rugby through and through now, and having made his Champions Cup debut against Munster on January 25, 2015, he lives and breathes the sport in Limerick in 2019 and feels at home with the province's supporters.

Parker is yet to start a senior game for Munster but he has racked up the replacement appearances, that now stands at ten, and he has shown a massive propensity to learn throughout his stay in Ireland.

"Last season was tougher because I came almost halfway through pre-season in August. Coming from Sale to Munster was a big step up," says Parker.

"Last season was more of a transitional year for me and getting used to how the team play and the training load.

"We do train quite hard here in Munster. This year I have had a decent pre-season and it paid dividends going into this season; I have had a lot more game time than I usually would.

"John Ryan, Stephen Archer and Brian Scott are all massive helps to me. We all know we are in competition with each other but we never hide information or not give each other tips. We are all working towards a bigger goal at Munster. We all try and help each other out.

"John and Stephen have been around for a good few years now. They have European experience and it's good to be learning off them. They are both nice lads so it makes it far easier than not liking them."

Parker is Irish-qualified through his grandmother, Margaret Hamilton, who is from Cork, and Dublin grandfather, Joe Parker.

"When I was first playing rugby my grandma had come back from visiting brothers and sisters and she came back with me for my first journey with a Munster jersey on. So it was quite ironic that they wanted me to come over and play in the end," continues Parker.

"I am surrounded by Lions players, Irish internationals that have got multiple caps. I have really benefited from being around those fellas because you pick up habits and what they are doing.

"They aren't in those positions by accidents. You pick up their training and lifestyle habits. The move to Munster has been a dream move for me."

But he still misses home at times. Parker joined Munster on a one-year development deal in the summer of 2017 and was thrilled to visit him family again at Christmas.

"It was great to be back at Christmas, normally we would train on St Stephen's Day but this year we were given Stephen's Day off so I managed to fly home from Dublin on Christmas Eve and come back on Stephen's Day night," says Parker.

"It was just nice to be around the family again. It is nice that we can get back and get weekends away. It felt like the old times."

Impressed

But the future is Limerick and Parker has impressed the coaches as he looks at new ways to innovate his game, and move onto the next level wearing Munster red.

"Jerry Flannery takes the lineout and scrum, and he is very good. We just draw up a preview at the start of the week. He puts in a lot of work about different teams and how they scrummage," Parker says.

"We will get to the session, he will give us a bit of free rein for lads to work things out. If we are feeling something different from the preview he is more than happy to let lads take the reins on that. He is a very good coach."

And having already played for the Irish Exiles and England at U-20 level, Parker's options are open as he explores a bright future ahead.

"I was always over in Ireland and I have got a lot of family here. Before I came over to Munster I was here four or five times a year coming over seeing family," says Parker.

"I played Irish Exiles at U-16 and U-17. Joe Lydon who is head of the Irish programme in England contacted me one day and he said there was a position in Munster that was available to me if I wanted it.

"Within two weeks of him saying that I was on a plane to Shannon airport. It all happened so quickly."

Irish Independent

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