Jack Crowley has scored 29 points for Ireland in their opening two U20 Six Nations games. The talented outhalf is pulling the strings at international level. KIERAN McCARTHY takes a closer look at the Innishannon man who came through the ranks at Bandon RFC
JACK Crowley is one of those special talents who always stood out.
The Innishannon man (20) has turned heads with his impressive performances for the Ireland U20s in their opening two Six Nations wins, but that doesn’t surprise Bandon RFC coach Bob Brady.
He coached Crowley from U10 through to U18 with Bandon, culminating in an U18 All-Ireland triumph in 2018. Brady spotted Crowley’s talent very early on.
‘There was one game when we were away to Kinsale, I think Jack was 13 years old and he was head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch,’ Brady explained.
‘I remember a fella from Kinsale saying to me, “who is that blonde-hair fella, he’s really good.”
‘I said back, “Watch this space and remember his name, Jack Crowley, because he’s going to play for Munster.”’
He’s pulling the strings for the Ireland U20s at outhalf now, but that wasn’t always his position. Crowley starred as scrumhalf for Bandon before he moved to number ten in his first year at U18.
‘You could see from very early on that he can play anywhere across the backline,’ Brady explained.
‘No matter where he played, he shone.
‘He was equally as good as a nine, but he has turned out to be a better outhalf. If he had continued at nine, he would have made it there too.’
In Crowley’s second year at U18, 2018, he was one of the main men on the Bandon team that won Munster and All-Ireland titles.
In the All-Ireland final against Skerries, he scored 15 points, including a try. Bandon won 20-7. That day, he kept the boys in blue on the front foot with brilliant kicks to the corners.
Again, Brady wasn’t surprised.
‘Jack’s place-kicking alone kept us in a lot of games,’ the Bandon RFC coach said.
‘He has a great ability to see what is going on around him, exploit the gap and go through it. He’s a great guy too to see a gap for another guy and send him through it.’
Crowley is well able to dictate a game. He has, said Brady, ‘tremendous vision and great natural ability’, but he also works extremely hard.
‘He has always been driven and focussed, and the talent is there, but it took a lot of hard work on Jack’s part too,’ Brady explained.
‘He was an easy guy to train, he always gave 100 percent at training, he would turn up early to practice passing from scrumhalf to outhalf, he’d practice his kicking, he’d practice his line kicking and kicking to touch. He’d have all that done before training would start.’
Those in Bandon RFC know too that it was common to see Crowley spend hours on his own at the club, armed with a bag of balls, kicking ball after ball after ball over the bar. Wind, rain and hail, he was there. Kicking ball after ball after ball. He’d jog behind the posts, collect all the balls, bring them back and start all over again. And repeat. And repeat. That’s the unseen work that goes unnoticed, but it’s also necessary.
It’s paying off now. Against Scotland in the U20 Six Nations, he scored 18 points, including two tries and was named man-of-the-match. It was his second try, a sensational solo run from his own 22, that grabbed the headlines. The talented play-maker was the star of the show.
Against Wales, Crowley landed four conversions and one penalty for an 11-point tally. Again, his kicking was a key feature, keeping Ireland on the front foot and Wales chasing backwards.
There’s been a huge travelling contingent from Bandon RFC at both games at Musgrave Park, cheering on their local hero.
Jack Crowley comes from a rugby family. His father, Fachtna, lined out with Bandon RFC. His uncles on his father’s side – Gerard, Liam and Declan – did so too, as did his uncles, Eoin and Liam Burke, on his mother’s side.
Jack’s older brothers played with Bandon. Jerry still does and is on the Bandon first team. Billy did and is now with Cork Con, who Jack also plays with in the All-Ireland League. His first cousin, Matthew Crowley, is the current full back on Bandon’s first team.
This is the club he has played with since he was a kid, and now Bandon’s younger charges are watching someone they know playing for the Ireland U20s. It shows, again, that a local kid can play for Ireland. It makes it real, just like it did in Skibbereen when Gavin Coombes and Liam Coombes lined out for the Ireland U20s, and when Enya Breen lines out for the Ireland senior women’s team, and in Bantry when Fineen and Josh Wycherley came through the ranks to play for the Ireland U20s.
After the win against Wales, Crowley met up with a bunch of Bandon RFC’s U11s and took photos with them in the stand at Musgrave Park. A nice touch.
In the 2018/19 season, Bandon Grammar School reached the semi-finals of the Munster Schools Senior Cup for the second time in three seasons. Crowley scored 21 points in their quarter-final replay win against Glenstal Abbey, but was on the losing side when Bandon lost 19-18 to Presentation Brothers Cork in the semi-final. It’s a match Bandon should have won.
Crowley was captain of his school team. He has leadership qualities, explained Bob Brady.
‘With the U16s and U18s in the club we had a leader group and Jack was a member of that senior group. We had four guys on that team who steered the team. We could only do so much on the sideline. Once they go out onto the pitch they have to make decisions for themselves,’ he explained.
‘The one thing about Jack too is that from an early age he would give you his input, suggesting that we might try something else and he’d come up with different ideas. If it didn’t work, it wasn’t the end of the world, but if he thought it could work he’d keep at it.’
Crowley is a work in progress. There are still a lot of rough edges to his game. But he only turned 20 in January. The raw material is there and there’s plenty to work on. No-one is getting carried away.
After his man-of-the-match display against Scotland, Ireland U20 coach Noel McNamara said: ‘The reality with Jack is he’s been playing consistently with Cork Con in the AIL and he’s been playing well. There were some really positive aspects, obviously it’s eye-catching when anyone runs the length he did to score but equally, there’s areas for him to tighten up.
‘There were a couple of turnovers and a couple of things that he won’t be happy with in his own performance so I think that’s the overarching thing you would say.’
Bob Brady feels there is more to come, too.
‘You have to realise that he’s still very young and there is a lot more growing to come for him – physically, emotionally, mentally,’ he said.
‘His game is going to improve exponentially over the next two, three seasons.
‘Hopefully he will be rewarded in the future and get a contract.’
Crowley is currently in with the Munster Sub Academy. He is moving in the right direction. England away this Friday night in the U20 Six Nations will be his toughest challenge yet, but also an important experience in his development.
It’s seven years since Bob Brady predicted Jack Crowley will play for Munster. Good call, Bob.