Schools Rugby PRO-file: Cathal Pendred
Most schools rugby players don't go on to play the game professionally. Some, like Cathal Pendred, become MMA stars instead.
While most of the big names in professional Irish rugby these days cut their teeth in the Schools Rugby scene, most of the players who perform at that level never make it to the pro game.
That’s natural in most sports but very few make the switch to another sport and become equally skilled at that.
That’s what makes Irish MMA rising star Cathal ‘The Punisher’ Pendred such a unique case. Pendred not only played in the Leinster Senior Cup, he won the thing with Belvedere College back in 2005. He also played with Clontarf and it looked like he was on the road to becoming a professional rugby player.
Instead, a trip to the US saw him fall in love with MMA and the rest, as they say, is history. Pendred will be in action in Cage Warriors 52 in London on March 9 (a card you can see streamed here on JOE.ie) and we caught up with him in a training camp in Iceland to ask about his rugby days with Belvo.
JOE: Was there a big rugby tradition in your family?
Cathal Pendred: Not at all. I was the first to play. My younger brother Padraig took it up then, he played Schools Cup rugby too.
JOE: What position did you play?
CP: Flanker or 2nd row.
JOE: Any team-mates from those days go on to turn pro?
CP: A good few. Cian Healy, Eoin O'Malley, Ian Keatley and Paul O'Donohoe.
JOE: Any standout memories?
CP: Winning the Senior Cup in 2005 is still one of my greatest sporting achievements. It was the first time the school had won it 33 years. We were complete outsiders that year, nobody really gave us a chance. But we played the best rugby as a team.
The Belvedere team line up before the 2005 final
JOE: Any guys you played against that stick out?
CP: Luke Fitzgerald was in my year in Blackrock. I played against him quite a few times throughout the years. He was always something special.
JOE: Any funny moments from those days?
CP: There's so many to be honest! I remember one time we were playing a friendly game of no real consequence during 4th year. So as the game was of no importance to us and the season was over, we didn't mind having a few drinks the night before in a free gaff that Healy had at the time. So on the Saturday morning, we were all a bit worse for wear before the game. We all got it together and began playing the game.
It wasn’t our best rugby as you'd imagine. Anyway, midway through the game, our opposition knocked on the ball so we were awarded a scrum. Paul O'Donohoe, who played scrum half, stepped towards the scrum to put the ball in. As the scrum engaged, a queasy looking O'Donohoe turned towards the ref and projectile vomited over him. The ref just looked in shock at him while everyone else roared laughing!
JOE: Do you watch much of the Schools game in recent years and how has it changed?
CP: I always get to the Belvo games if I can. I was away training in Iceland this year so I didn't get to their opener, they were unfortunate to get favourites in the first round (Terenure beat Belvedere 17-13 in this year’s first round). I don't think it's changed much. Training for Senior Cup rugby is still as close to living the life of a professional rugby player as you can get as a school boy, and it's the breeding ground for future Irish internationals.
JOE: Did your rugby background help at all in your MMA career?
CP: It definitely did! I found all the tackling, scrummaging and mauling techniques to be similar to wrestling. So I seemed to have quite a good grasp of that aspect of MMA immediately. To emphasise that opinion, there is a lot of pro rugby players/teams that are cross training in wrestling/MMA now. I think that's a very good move, because by training in wrestling or MMA you can learn how to manipulate the movement of an opponent’s body which is a huge advantage in the tackle or breakdown playing rugby.