This week, Malcolm O’Kelly of Leinster, Ireland and the Lions reflects on his days as a schools rugby player with Templeogue College.
He won over 90 caps for Ireland and collected a Grand Slam and a few Triple Crowns along the way, he made almost 200 appearances for Leinster and won a Heineken Cup, he toured with the Lions twice and (shameless plug alert) he’s a major player in the best Heineken Cup Rugby podcast around, but Malcolm O’Kelly hasn’t forgotten his roots.
Born in England but a Templeogue man through and through, O’Kelly attended Templeogue College in his teens, where he took the first steps in a rugby career that saw him travel the world with Leinster, London Irish, Ireland, the Lions and the Barbarians and left him with quite a bulging medal cabinet when he eventually hung up his boots.
Given what he’s achieved in his career, it would be if understandable if the exploits of his school days had been banished from Malcolm’s memory, but although it wasn’t the most successful period in his long association with the sport, he has fond memories of his school rugby days.
“There was a good rugby tradition, even going back to under-13 level, we would have played against the likes of St. Mary’s and we had a big rivalry against Terenure as well. We had a lot of dedicated guys involved with us," Malcolm told us.
“Standout memories? I suppose one Junior Cup quarter-final defeat stands out. We were beaten by the eventual winners Presentation College Bray in the quarter-final in what was a very tight game in Donnybrook; it finished 6-3 in the end if I remember correctly.
“The players on the Pres Bray team would have included guys like Richie Murphy, who is now the kicking coach at Leinster and Conor McEntee, who is the Leinster Development Officer. I would have played against them all the way up and they denied me a McCorry Cup medal as well so I was pretty p*ssed off with them for a while, but I couldn’t hold a grudge forever and eventually I had to let it go!”
At senior level, victory over CUS in a three-game saga is what Malcolm can remember most, but there was precious little silverware earned during his school days; that would take care of itself later.
Templeogue College is inextricably linked with St. Mary’s RFC, who can count Jonathan Sexton, Denis Hickie, Trevor Brennan, Ciaran Fitzgerald and Tony Ward as well as O’Kelly amongst their former players and although not many of Malcolm’s school teammates ended up making the jump to the professional ranks, a lot of them played AIL rugby, which was a far bigger deal than it is now when O’Kelly left school.
“I was the only man out of the team that I played on to have progressed to the professional ranks but since I left, the likes of Conor McPhillips went on to have a good career while I’m pretty sure Dave McSharry went there as well (he did); I’m claiming him anyway!” Malcolm says.
Malcolm in 1995. It's as close as we could get to his school days
“Templeogue College has a great affiliation with St. Mary’s Rugby Club and there are a ton of guys who went to Templeogue and went on to play AIL afterwards so there’s a good tradition there.”
He might not have won anything, but O’Kelly feels that schools rugby still played a crucial part in his development as a player. It was there that he learned the basics that would stand him in good stead later on, although he didn’t realise how important a role it played until well after he had left.
“From doing a small bit of coaching at club level, I realise how important schools rugby was to me back in the day,” Malcolm says.
“It is very important, especially, as far as I’m concerned at least, if you want to become a good forward, you need to learn the basics and you do that at school. Even at club level, I can often spot the difference between players who have played rugby in school and those who haven’t.”
He mightn’t be quick to admit it now, but it was in the early 90s when Malcolm last played schools rugby.
Two decades on, it is now a completely different world altogether and the change has not been lost on O’Kelly, who is seriously impressed with what he has seen in recent years.
“I think the level of professionalism of the coaching and management has come on an awful lot and the interest level has increased too,” he says.
“It’s turned into a really superb competition and I think the small bit of television coverage gives the kids a bit of an extra buzz. When I was in school, you always loved to have your name in the paper and it must be great to be able to see yourself on TV now as well.”