FINEEN Wycherley stands four inches taller than his younger brother Josh, but the latter certainly wasn’t left standing in the shadows this past year.
Together, the Wycherley brothers are a formidable sight, Fineen standing at six foot four in height and Josh at six foot. Wide shoulders that need to squeeze through door frames. Physical presences that bring their own shadows. A work ethic harvested from their rural upbringing at home in Kealkill that has turned heads in Munster Rugby.
On their own, they’re just as formidable. Just ask France who felt the full force of former Bantry Bay RFC battering ram Josh in the U20 Six Nations title-clinching win (31-29) at Irish Independent Park in March. Josh was a force of nature that night in the Irish front row, powering over for two tries, one in each half.
He was man-on-the-match as Ireland won the championship on a special occasion in Cork.
‘That was an unbelievable night, I had never played in front of a crowd so big, the atmosphere was incredible, there was so much noise and the fans really drove us on,’ the 20-year-old recalls.
The entire U20 Six Nations was an incredible experience for Josh, who flew the West Cork flag on the international stage alongside Rosscarbery’s John Hodnett. They were two of Ireland’s standout players throughout the tournament. Two rocks that Ireland built the foundation for success on.
They are another two off the West Cork rugby conveyor belt that’s provided great talent for Munster in recent years. A GAA stronghold is now known for its rugby riches. Ireland international Darren Sweetnam is a former Doheny and Cork hurler, Fineen Wycherley lined out with St Colum’s, as did Josh. John Hodnett played with Carbery Rangers. Ireland internationals and Munster stars Laura Sheehan (Beara) and Enya Breen (O’Donovan Rossa) have backgrounds in GAA, too. Then you have the Coombes cousins, Gavin and Liam.
All eight West Cork natives are involved with Munster Rugby. All eight are role models for the next wave of West Cork rugby that is already excelling. Skibbereen RFC won the All-Ireland U18.5 title in 2019, Bandon U16s were also crowned All-Ireland champions, there were eight players from Skibbereen RFC on the Munster panel that won the IRFU U18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship including player of the tournament Eimear Minihane from Schull and top scorer in the final, Emma Connolly from Skibbereen.
And there’s more still, a lot more, including Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí qualifying for the Munster Schools’ Junior Cup for the first time and they’ll play Bandon Grammar School in January, while the Bandon school is also involved in the Munster Schools’ Senior Cup.
With Clonakilty’s promotion to Munster Junior League Division 1, they joined Bandon and Skibbereen there to make it three West Cork teams slugging it out, with both Clon and Bandon in the shake-up for the top four at the halfway stage.
Heady days for West Cork rugby, boosted by the heroics of Josh Wycherley and John Hodnett with the Ireland U20s in 2019.
‘It comes down to the drive of the local people in the clubs in West Cork,’ Josh says.
‘They are driving on people to play, they’re coaching and working hard, and for such small towns to be pushing on so much, it’s great to see.
‘Now there are fellas like Darren Sweetnam, Fineen and the Coombes’ that young fellas can look up to. They’ve seen the route that they have taken, how they have come up through the ranks in West Cork so they know it’s possible to get there too. That’s important, to see that there is a path there from West Cork to Munster, and there is.’
Josh’s own background saw him learn his trade with Bantry Bay RFC, then spend two years in Cistercian College in Roscrea before moving on to the Munster Sub Academy and the highly-rated prop is now in Year Two of the Munster Academy while also lining out in the AIL with Young Munster.
‘For me, in 2020 it’s about trying to get my first cap and then push on into the seniors at some stage. As long as I keep training away hard, hopefully I will get that chance,’ Josh says.
‘The whole Academy trained with the seniors in their pre-season, a lot of the internationals were away with Ireland at the World Cup in Japan, so getting to train at that level was a great experience for us, to be in there with the seniors.
‘Unfortunately, I picked up a small injury before a pre-season game and I haven’t got the run out yet so I have been training away and playing with Young Munsters week in, week out.’
Even coming back from injury was a different experience for the Kealkill man to deal with, and all part of the learning curve he’s on right now.
‘There have been different experiences throughout the year that bring you on in different ways. It’s how you deal with an injury or a small setback or how you cope with the pressure of playing in front of a big crowd,’ he explains.
‘Look at the U20 Six Nations, I’d watched it on TV before but I never really expected it to be that big. It ended up being overwhelming, it was hard to take it all in because I have never experienced anything like it before. You play in the inter-provincials, U18s and U19s, but this was a big step up, and first time on TV too.’
Wins against England (35-27), Scotland (24-5), Italy (34-14), France (31-29) and Wales (26-17) secured the Grand Slam, and then it was on to the U20 World Cup in Argentina that followed last summer where injuries took their toll.
‘We went into the World Cup with a similar mindset to the Six Nations but we were unfortunate that we went there with a load of injuries and then we picked up more injuries when we were there, but it was an incredible experience,’ Josh says.
‘The level of competition was class, to play against some of the best teams in the world, like New Zealand and Australia, is something I’ll never forget.’
Josh could say the same for the entire of 2019, it’s a year he’ll never forget, as he showed that West Cork is also the home for some incredible rugby talent. The door has been opened. And the rugby roots are strong here now.