TO figure out why Fineen Wycherley has emerged from the non-traditional rugby stronghold of West Cork to now be rated as one of the top young players in the country, all you need to do is look at his upbringing.
The journey from Coomhola outside Bantry to Munster Rugby isn’t straightforward and it hasn’t been easy.
There have been setbacks along the way (not making the Ireland U18s and U19s) and there were tough decisions to make (leaving Bantry to go to school in Roscrea), but the 17-stone seven-pound giant has taken it all in his stride.
He is one of seven siblings so he’s used to fighting his corner and working hard to get noticed – those traits have stood to him as he blazed a trail from Bantry to Thomond Park.
Fineen (22) is coming off the back of a strong campaign for Munster that includes making his first Champions Cup start, and his passion for rugby can be traced back to home in Coomhola.
He’s the middle child. Jason, Gary and Nathan are all older. Then there’s Fineen. Next are his younger brother Josh and his two sisters, Latisha and Saskia. They all played rugby – and that love for the sport comes from their parents, Florence and Catherine.
‘I don’t know would I have been as heavily involved in rugby except for dad, and, to be fair, mom as well,’ Fineen told the Star Sport Podcast.
‘They went to Munster’s European finals in 2006 and 2008 and there was a massive buzz around the house for it. My older brothers were playing, we’d be passing around outside and that grew my interest.
‘When I was around 10 or 11 years old, I was watching so many matches, I was watching Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan and Peter Stringer, all these guys, and then I wanted to be like them, to grow up and play in Thomond Park on the big days and be part of this massive thing.
‘Over time it built up, this craving to be a professional.’
His dad, Florence, was a crucial figure in those formative years. He comes from Hollyhill outside Skibbereen and he also played with Skibbereen RFC. After he met Catherine, they moved to Coomhola in Bantry, where she’s from. As their kids grow up there was no underage rugby club in Bantry, no outlet for local kids who wanted to play the game.
‘I’ve older brothers and dad was very keen for them to play rugby so he and a couple of his friends – Eugene McCarthy, Philip Walters and a few others – came together and decided to set up the underage team in Bantry,’ Fineen explained.
It was only natural that he followed the same path as his older brothers, and so did Josh who is in the Munster Academy and following in Fineen’s footsteps.
‘I grew up with rugby,’ explained Fineen, who also watched his older brothers play.
‘I’ve played since I was six, but when I was four or five we were throwing around the ball out in the garden. My older brothers played, Josh obviously plays, my two young sisters played, everyone did.’
Remember too that West Cork is GAA country, the heartland of Gaelic football in the county, and while rugby has exploded in the region in recent years, that wasn’t the case when Fineen was trying to move up through the ranks.
He lined out with St Colum’s GAA Club and loved it, but rugby was number one – and he was extremely driven to succeed. So when underage numbers were tight at Bantry Bay RFC he knew he needed more if he wanted to climb up the latter so he moved to Cistercian College in Roscrea for fifth and sixth years of secondary school, and never looked back. In his first year there, 2015, the school won the Leinster Schools Senior Cup.
‘For me back then it was the right time to go but if I had the same amount of lads training as there is now I might have never left,’ he said.
But while he left Bantry to follow his dream, he has never forgotten where it started and where home is. And he’s never forgotten too the role his parents played in his story – they created an opportunity for him, he grabbed it with those giant hands and he hasn’t looked back.