Friday, 14 November 2014

London Irish player Tomás O'Leary talks Rugby, Culture and all things Irish!

The ICC had the pleasure of catching up with London Irish player Tomás O'Leary this week!

London Irish player Tomás O'Leary
I understand you come from quite the sporty background in Ireland. Your dad played hurling for Cork and you yourself hurled too I believe?  

Yes my Dad hurled with Cork in the 1970s and 80s. He was part of the 3 in a row from 76-78 & won another All- Ireland in centenary year 1984. My Aunt Mary was an accomplished camogie player. Both my Dad & Mary won All-Stars during their careers. Hurling was & still is my passion. Growing up in a household steeped in GAA, my sole desire as a kid was to play hurling with Cork. I didn't quite achieve this but I did manage to captain the Cork minors to an All-Ireland in 2001. Still time for me to play senior though! Hope Jimmy Barry Murphy sees this!!

Do you still get the chance to practice your hurling?

Since I gave up at age 19 to pursue a career in rugby I haven't had much opportunity to practice. My training schedule is too hectic. I look forward to getting back onto a GAA pitch once I retire from professional rugby.

How is training going with London Irish?

Great. It's an exciting time in the history of London Irish. We are under new ownership & have recently moved into a state of the art training facility at Hazelwood. All our owners have strong Irish links and are keen to strenghten our role within Irish heritage & culture in London. On the pitch we have assembled a strong, tight knit squad and look forward to future success.

London Irish have kindly chosen The Irish Cultural Centre as one of their supported charities this season; how important is Irish culture to you?

Culture defines people. Culture illustrates who you are & where you have come from. As a nation us Irish are fiercely proud of our unique & diverse culture. We are renowned for our Music, Sport, Literature, Drama, Art. Our unique attitude towards life, our inquisitive nature & our love of 'the craic' has spread Irish influence all over the world. Irish emigrants look to our culture & traditions to keep us connected to our homeland.
The things I miss from home are inherently, friends, hurling, the Cork accent, having 6 cups of tea a day, my Mums cooking. You can't take everything abroad with you but you take as much as we can. I still have my Cork accent like. Our people's love for our identity is why our culture is so strong.

How important to you is a sense of 'Irishness'? Of keeping Irishness and Irish culture alive abroad?   

'Irishness' is undeniable. It is unique. Our traditions & customs, our culture will never cease to exist. Where there is Irish people or people of Irish heritage then there is 'Irishness'. Our people will keep Irish culture alive wherever they may be.

Do you get to go back to Ireland often?

Whenever I can depending on my training schedule & matches. Love getting back to Cork catching up with family & friends.

Have the Irish lads at the club introduced Irish culture to the other players who are not from an Irish background ? Do you organise ceilis or trad sessions for them?!  

We have showed them how to play hurling, taught them some Irish slang, the odd cuplá focal, introduced them to a few Irish artists. No ceilis. Would like to see a few of our Tongan & Samon players dancing though. Maybe something for the future!

Have you learned about other cultures and traditions from players at London Irish?   

 Absolutely. Throughout my career I have played with a multitude of nationalities. English, Scottish, Welsh, Samoan, Aussie, Tongan, Kiwi, South African, French, Canadian. Each culture brings its own customs & nuances but when in a rugby environment any barriers are quickly broken down.
Every culture is unique. We all have idiosyncrasies. 

The lads at London Irish get to grips with some musical education!
Recently the ICC filmed a video with some of the players from London Irish having a music lesson with Brendan Mulkere, the Head of our Music Academy; How was that experience? The lads seemed to enjoy it?! Did you ever play a musical instrument when you were growing up...or will you now?!   

 We had great fun with Brendan. I played tin whistle when I was younger. I'm gonna brush up on it now. A bit of work to do though before I'm ready to join in a Trad session.

The ICC will be fundraising by doing bucket collections at the Madejski Stadium for your match against Gloucester on Sunday 30th November; how do you think London Irish will fare against them?

If our fans donate a load of money to the ICC then I am extremely confident we will win. If not I fear for the result. Get out your airgead & support the ICC!

Tomás combining his training and music practice!
Thank you for chatting with us Tomas! We'll be cheering you on at our fundraising day at London Irish vs. Gloucester on 30th November!

Interview by Helen Bermingham for The Irish Cultural Centre