IT’S been a long journey to get there but former St Colum’s footballer Fineen Wycherley finally got to play at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last weekend – but with a rugby ball, not an O’Neill’s.
‘It’s come full circle,’ he laughs, ‘I somehow ended up in Páirc Uí Chaoimh against all the odds because I wasn’t that good a footballer!’
In his pre-Munster rugby days Wycherley lined out for his home GAA club and enjoyed underage success, winning U14 and U16 West Cork and county C titles, but once rugby got serious, there was no room for football and hurling.
‘I was keen to kick on with the rugby and focus on that, and it was too hard to keep both going,’ the Kealkill man says. ‘I really enjoyed football, and hurling as well. We didn’t have much of a hurling team but we’d join up with Glengarriff; there would be a few from both clubs to make up a team.’
He has great memories from his St Colum’s days, and the memory of beating the Crusaders 21-19 at a sold-out Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday will also endure.
Wycherley missed Munster’s historic win against South Africa at Cork GAA HQ in November 2022 because of injury, and he didn’t want to sit out this novel clash of the 2023 URC champs against the current Super Rugby Pacific winners. He played 78 minutes here, a welcome return to action after a spell on the outside looking in.
The six-foot five-inch 117kg West Cork powerhouse wants to use it as a springboard to launch his second half of the season having been sidelined with a shoulder injury recently in a campaign that hasn’t taken off for him. Having played 64 games in three seasons (2019/20, 20/21 and 21/22), he has been limited to just 17 appearances in the past two seasons combined. It’s a frustrating patch.
‘I have been fully training the last three weeks, with contact and everything, so I feel I am ready to go again. Hopefully it can ignite my season so I can kick on,’ he says.
Before last weekend Wycherley had played in just five matches this season, the last being the home draw with Bayonne in the Champions Cup on December 9th. He has played the full 80 minutes only three times, including the loss to Ulster in November which was his 100th game for Munster. He knows it has been a stop-start campaign, and is eager to get some consistency, both in performance and game-time.
‘I had a really good pre-season, came back very fit after a good off-season and did well in the warm-up games, particularly the Ba-Bas game in Thomond Park where I felt I played well,’ he says.
‘The first couple of games after that, I was a little bitín slow by my own standards; I would have liked to have gotten more out of them. I worked my way back into the starting team for the Bayonne game in Thomond Park and I was happy with how that went. The week before that we had Glasgow at home, I was on the bench but came on and felt I did well.
‘I felt I was finding my feet again, that my season was starting to move but I hurt my shoulder in training on the week of the Leinster game when it looked like I was going to be involved in the four role. I was out from then until last weekend, really.
‘I understand that too, when you have a big squad and you’ve had a massive win away, like we had against Toulon (on January 13th) – and that was the first week I was going to be available for selection. I was meant to start against Connacht but got pulled late in the week because of my shoulder again; that was quite frustrating.
‘I’m finding my feet again, I feel I have been training quite well but I just haven’t been able to transfer onto game-day at the moment.’
Wycherley’s latest shoulder injury – ‘a freak accident’ when the team-mates landed on him in training – isn’t on the same shoulder that he needed surgery on in the 2022/23 campaign and kept him sidelined for four months. That was another campaign that never got off the ground, even though it finished with URC glory in Cape Town.
His hope now is to use his Páirc Uí Chaoimh debut as the platform to get back on track.
‘It would be nice to get the feet back on the ground, get some match fitness in and get back playing good rugby because it has been a frustrating few weeks,’ he says.
‘It’s a very competitive environment in Munster and that’s what you need. If you are competing with the best, that’s how you get the best out of yourself.’
Given Munster’s injury woes this season, the return of Wycherley is a boost at the right time. Now it’s time to take off.