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‘Young players can dream of being the next Jack Crowley’

September 2nd, 2023 1:00 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

‘Young players can dream of being the next Jack Crowley’ Image
Innishannon man Jack Crowley is poised for a huge Six Nations.

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JACK Crowley has come a long way in a short amount of time.

In January 2021, 11 days before he hit his milestone 21st birthday, the Innishannon man made his senior debut for Munster, away to Ulster in a largely forgettable PRO14 tie at Kingspan Stadium.

Jack came on in the 67th minute, and combined with another West Cork trailblazer for a Munster score that night – Dunmanway’s Darren Sweetnam ran in a try, then Crowley converted.

Two men playing important roles in the rise of West Cork rugby. Sweetnam was the first local to earn a senior men’s cap for Ireland and now 23-year-old Jack – less than three years after his Munster debut – has become the first West Cork men’s rugby player selected to play in a Rugby World Cup.

Jack’s rapid rise has been sensational.

Jack Crowley in action for Bandon in their 2018 Munster U18 Cup final win against Skibbereen at Thomond Park.

He is the boy wonder who starred on the Bandon team that beat Skerries in 2018 to win the U18 All-Ireland Cup final – he scored a try and kicked two conversions and two penalties for 15 points of Bandon’s winning total (20).

He is the whizzkid who then spellbound us all with the Ireland U20s in the 2020 Six Nations, scoring that try against Scotland when he collected the ball inside his own 22, then jinked, then weaved, then put on the afterburners, then brushed off a late challenge to score a breathtaking try.

He is the man who turned down Ronan O’Gara’s advances, and a chance to move to La Rochelle, in 2021 to stay with Munster, and who has since gone on to establish himself as Munster’s number 10 built for the big moments: remember his match-winning 78th-minute drop goal to beat Leinster in the URC semi-final in May? Iconic. Think of the outhalf’s polished performance in the URC final triumph against the Stormers on South African soil considered, by some, his best game yet.

Innishannon's Jack Crowley has won six senior caps for Ireland.

He is already the most capped West Cork man at international level (six appearances and counting) and the first West Cork man to be selected for a Rugby World Cup.

Darren Sweetnam picked up the baton for West Cork players, making his international debut in 2017, and now Jack, in possession of that baton, is blazing a trail to the top, but not forgetting where it all started: Bandon Rugby Club and Bandon Grammar School.

‘Where I come from and the people that I have met over the last 15 years of being involved in rugby have had a massive influence on me,’ Jack told The Southern Star after he collected a Celtic Ross Hotel West Cork Sports Star monthly award this summer.

‘You’ll never forget what made you, you’ll never forget where you came from and the people and places that had a role to play in that. You should never get too far ahead of yourself that you forget where you came from because that is inevitably what shaped you to be the person that you are now.’

Central to Jack’s development has been Bandon Rugby Club, a short drive for his home in Innishannon. His family’s ties with the club are incredibly strong. His two older brothers played with Bandon; Jerry still does, while Billy lines out with Cork Con in the All-Ireland League. Jack’s cousin Matthew is also with Bandon. The generation before played, too. Jack’s father, Fachtna, and uncles on both sides.

‘The Crowleys and the Burkes, their connection with the club is very strong,’ Bandon RFC’s Dan Murphy tells this week’s Star Sport Podcast.

‘His parents, Fachtna and Maria, would pop in to see Jerry playing with Bandon as much as Billy playing with Cork Con or Jack with Munster.’

Murphy adds that Jack’s cousin, Emily Foley, is also a central figure with girls’ rugby the club. The connection to Bandon RFC means this is a huge moment for the club.

‘There is a lot of excitement. The minis are back training on Saturday, and that’s when you will see the reality of it. Jack came to present the prizes at our end-of-season BBQ in May and you could see the hero worship the young kids have for him. To be honest, the older kids and the adults have that hero worship too! There is a massive amount of pride,’ Dan Murphy explains before expanding on the significance of Jack’s World Cup call-up in this rugby-mad region.

‘I think Jack going to the World Cup is recognition of all the hard work by the clubs and volunteers in West Cork,’ he says.

‘There are tremendous volunteers in West Cork; in our own club we have about 85 underage coaches with us every Saturday, we have adult coaches, we have volunteers throughout the club. You have that in Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Bantry, Dunmanway, Kinsale, throughout West Cork. You have a lot of clubs that have got players into the Munster set-up in recent years, and a number have been capped for Ireland and now Jack is the first West Cork man to go to the big show, the World Cup. It’s a massive moment, but also huge recognition for what is going on in West Cork.’

Jack Crowley celebrates kicking Munster's winning drop goal against Leinster in the URC semi-final.

It’s fitting, too, that a man who played a significant role in Jack’s development is now back in Bandon just when his former player hits a new height.

The French influence of Regis Sonnes left an impression on Jack, who in recent interviews hailed Sonnes’ impact on him while he was at Bandon Grammar. Sonnes coached Jack for two years (2016 to 2018), and they struck up a connection.

‘Jack is a special player,’ Sonnes tells this week’s Star Sport Podcast. He is now back in West Cork, rejoining Bandon RFC as underage director of coaching, and he will also work as a technical advisor for boys and girls’ rugby at Bandon Grammar.

‘Jack was special in mentality, a hard worker, and he was a very good example for the rest of the team. He is a clutch player.

‘His mentality, I love it.

‘He takes the initiative to win. He is smart, he has intelligence, and is very confident.’

That cocktail of talent, hard work and confidence has joined the dots between Bandon’s Old Chapel grounds and now a Rugby World Cup. A local hero has been born.

‘All kids dream of being the next Brian O’Driscoll or Ronan O’Gara or Johnny Sexton, but now these young players can dream of being the next Jack Crowley,’ Dan Murphy adds.

‘He is a fella who started in Bandon and is now going to a World Cup.

‘He is a local guy, from Innishannon, played with Bandon Rugby Club, played with the Grammar School, and you can see him walking down the street. The local aspect of this is very strong.’

Jack knows this, too, and that he has all of West Cork right behind him.

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