With less than three years of existence, Sydney Irish rugby club has already made quite an impact, winning cups in each of the past two seasons.
With the new season about to start, the club’s director of rugby Andrew Scannell (who played for Cork Constitution in Ireland) fills in some of the background.
“The club was formed in 2012 when some ex-pats decided that with the amount of Irish that were coming out to Australia, maybe it would be a good idea to see if we could get something together. We thought that to have a social club in the name of sport would be something of great value to people,” he told the Irish Echo.
“We met through friends of friends of friends in business in Sydney and thought this could potentially grow into something large. In August 2012 we had our first match. It grew rapidly from there and now we have three teams and some major sponsors.”
Finding a pitch to play on was the most difficult part of setting up the club, but some big names helped out.
“We approached Alan Gaffney, who was assistant coach to Ireland and had coached Leinster and Munster. He is back in Australia and has been assistant coach to the Wallabies and backs coach to the Waratahs. He
put us in the right direction,” Scannell said.
“I have a very good relationship now with Simon Poidevin, who was a Wallaby and has great links to Randwick rugby club. Randwick have given us a home ground that we train on and play on. It’s a reciprocal agreement where we sponsor their juniors.”
Though Scannell is a Munster man, there’s no favouritism at the club.
“When it comes to Sydney Irish there is no talk of Connacht, Leinster, Munster or Ulster, which is great. It’s not dominated by any province. There are plenty of Aussies as well to keep us at bay. There are a couple of Scottish and Welsh, too.
“That’s what the club is all about. It’s more of a social club and it’s not just for ex-pats, it’s also for people who have moved in from out of town. We have a few boys up from Wollongong who were just looking for a club to play for and a bit of a laugh,” he said.
“We’re a social side. We only train once a week, compared to the standard of two or three times a week. We have more social events than most clubs in our competition. We do Christmas in July, we’ll do a Halloween party, we get together for the Six Nations games and other events too.”
But success has come despite, or perhaps because of, having fewer training sessions.
“If you’re a club that trains twice or three times a week you get a lot of players falling off and it’s very hard to get decent scrummaging or decent lineouts when half the team isn’t there on Wednesday and the other half isn’t there on Thursday. We’re dedicated to turning up one night a week, we have a talented squad and we have that real team environment,” Scannell said.
Much like GAA clubs in London, Sydney Irish also operates as a place to make contacts for jobs and a room.
“We’ve got people who come to
training and are looking for work, and we try to help out as best we can. We’re there to help out. We have also helped people who are looking for
accommodation,” he said.
The club may not be at the level of London Irish yet, but it is looking at the future. “We have no five-year plan, but we have aspirations,” he said.