Fineen Wycherley has been drafted into the Munster squad for Friday’s Guinness PRO12 clash with the Scarlets. KIERAN McCARTHY caught up with the Bantry man to talk rugby
FINEEN Wycherley represents a new breed in West Cork sport.
Towering at 6’ 5” tall and weighing in around 15 stone, the Bantry teenager stands out from the crowd for several reasons.
Kicking the usual trend into touch, he hasn’t followed the traditional GAA route in West Cork. He did play football and hurling locally with St Colum’s until he was 16 years old – but he knew GAA wasn’t his calling.
These days he is fast making a name for himself with Munster and Irish rugby.
In his first season with the Munster Academy, second rower Fineen (19) has made giant strides with the province and has also started in Ireland’s two recent wins in the U20 Six Nations against Scotland and Italy.
It was expected that he would line out against France this Friday in the next Six Nations game but team news on Wednesday revealed that he has been drafted into the Munster squad for their Guinness PRO12 match this Friday against Scarlets in Thomond Park. It’s another step in his journey.
Fineen is one of a number of talented young West Cork rugby players that are appearing on the radar more frequently these days. In the recent 27-26 Six Nations win away to Italy that Fineen started, former Skibbereen RFC player Gavin Coombes made his debut as a second-half sub and the latter’s cousin, Liam, is also involved in the Irish U20 panel. All three are in with Munster, Fineen and Gavin with the full academy.
In last month’s British and Irish Cup win against Doncaster Knights in Bandon, Gavin Coombes started for Munster A, Fineen came on as a replacement and Union Hall’s Dave McCarthy, another Skibbereen RFC product, made his debut in the competition.
Dunmanway’s Darren Sweetnam is blazing a trail with Munster, too, and pushing towards senior international recognition.
Times are changing in the West Cork sports scene, with rugby on the rise, further highlighted by Bandon Grammar School’s progression to the semi-finals of the Munster Schools Senior Cup.
‘There was always a few of us pushing on from around West Cork,’ said Fineen, who has put Bantry rugby on the map.
‘West Cork was always a big GAA area but you can see that in recent years, rugby has really kicked on. There are a lot more young fellas taking an interest in rugby, you can see it’s becoming more popular.
‘I suppose now with a few of us local lads in with Munster and involved with Ireland, young fellas in West Cork can see now that the targets they set themselves are achievable. There’s a path there that they can see.
‘I’ve been down home a good bit and visited underage training in Bantry and they’re putting in a massive effort there – and all that hard work is paying off.’
Eugene McCarthy, Bantry, is a coach that Fineen credits a lot of his success to.
‘He was always a big coach for me and he gave me a lot of help through the years. He has a big influence in Bantry.’
Fineen’s own story begins with Bantry rugby.
His dad, Florence, from Hollyhill outside Skibbereen played with Skibb, and after he met his wife Catherine, they moved to Coomhola in Bantry, where she’s from.
Fineen is one of seven siblings. He has three older brothers, Jason (plays with Young Munster), Gary and Nathan, a younger brother Josh (involved with the Ireland U18 schools squad) and two younger sisters, Latisha and Saskia, who also play rugby.
With his dad having played rugby, it was always popular and present in the Wycherley household.
At the time Bantry had no underage rugby club. That soon changed.
‘When we were growing up there was no real underage club for the younger age groups in Bantry. My father, Eugene McCarthy, Philip Walters, they all played for Bantry at the time and they ended up setting up an underage club,’ Fineen explained, and that was the start of his adventure that would take him to Cistercian College in Roscrea for fifth and sixth year of secondary school.
He had come up through the ranks with Bantry Bay RFC but numbers were tight at his age grade and he felt he needed more of a challenge to reach his potential.
In his first year (2015) with Roscrea, he helped the school win the Leinster Schools Senior Cup and they got back to the final the following year.
‘It was good for me because I got to train and play a lot, the coaching and facilities were excellent – everyone was focussed on the one goal, to win the cup. Thankfully, we did in my first year there,’ he recalled.
‘It was a different brand of rugby for me and it brought me on a lot.’
At the same time, Fineen was progressing through the Munster underage ranks and then he got his big break in the 2015/16 season. He helped Munster win the U19 interprovincial title and he also made an appearance for the Munster A team last April.
‘After the schools cup when I was in sixth year,
I was asked into a Munster A game against Ulster A. It was unusual that a fella in school would go and play a Munster A game in Naas. Luckily enough I got a good bit of time that day, one of the second rows got a knee injury and I was brought into the game after only 12 minutes; that was my first exposure to any sort of senior rugby because I had just come out of the schools cup,’ he explained.
A couple of months later he finished school, he moved to Limerick and was signed up to the Munster Academy last summer. He also plays club rugby with Young Munster, he’s in his first season there, and got to play alongside his oldest brother Jason recently, the first time they ever played on the same team.
While he won’t be in action in Friday’s U20 Six Nations game against France, after being called into the Munster squad, Fineen had to bide his time before making his international breakthrough. It didn’t work out for him at U18 or U19 level, he was made play the waiting game – but he spent that time wisely.
‘I never really broke into the U18s and for the U19s, I got a few trials but unfortunately I fell short of selection. After that it was a big goal of mine then to force my way into the Ireland U20 squad. Especially being in the Munster Academy, I really wanted to push on. It’s even better now to get the starting number four spot.
‘When I found out that I didn’t make it with the U19s, I put that to bed straightaway and focussed in on the U20s. I worked on the areas that had been pointed out to me. Any weakness that I had in my game, I worked and worked on it over the last year and really nailed down those things so when it came to selection I knew I was in a better place than last season.’
Coming off the back of two impressive performances in the U20 Six Nations, a decisive few weeks lie ahead with France, Wales and England tests to come, and after that Fineen’s hoping to be included in the Irish squad for the 2017 World Rugby U20 Championship in Georgia that starts at the end of May. Ireland are drawn in Pool B along with Scotland, Italy and New Zealand.
‘I’m not setting long-term goals, I’m enjoying my rugby right now, this is something that I always wanted to do, and I want to push on now,’ he said.
Getting to train with the Munster first team also helps, as does being able to pick the brains of one of the game’s greatest-ever second row players, Paul O’Connell, who is involved with coaching in Munster.
‘He is always very helpful, very approachable. He’ll always ask how things are going and he’ll answer whatever questions I have too. It’s great to be able to have him there to help,’ Fineen said.
‘Training with the seniors gives me a flavour for it and I know it’s something I want to do in the future, to train in that environment full time.’
Fineen’s journey has taken him from Bantry to Roscrea to Limerick and it’s now paying dividends.
Given his size, strength, ambition and hunger, nothing will stop this Bantry man in his tracks. He’s blazing a trail that others can follow.