League breaks new ground in Limerick

IRELAND’S rugby league international with France at Thomond Park this afternoon (5pm) hasn’t been setting the sporting world alight in terms of hype and publicity.

But for two of the sport’s burgeoning stars, the chance to run on Limerick rugby’s sacred ground is a very big deal.

Six months ago local lads Ian Cross (Young Munster) and Aaron McCloskey (Bohemians, by way of Young Munster) were plying their trade in the All-Ireland League.

But a chance encounter, a weekend of trials, and suddenly their world was turned on its head.

“There was a national identification camp held in Limerick last May and Brendan Guilfoyle, who’s a development officer for Rugby League Ireland, asked me to along to it,” Cross (22) – a utility back — explained.

“I was supposed to be going to the Kinsale 7s but I had to work that weekend so I went along to the camp. It was held in the Young Munster grounds over a Saturday and Sunday. Wigan had scouts there, as had St. Helen’s, and Helen’s asked me over for trials after the camp. That’s how the crossover happened.”

McCloskey (23) also caught the eye of the Saints, one of the most renowned clubs in rugby league.

Raw and all as they were they were both signed up.

Six months on, and having already played within the past two weeks against Scotland (26-6 loss) and Wales (30-6 defeat), both are set to win their third international cap this evening. It’s been a dizzy rise.

Cross admitted: “At this stage we’ve played only about 12 or 13 competitive games of league and two of those have been internationals! It’s been a jump, no question about that, but the standard in the All-Ireland League is hugely underestimated. There are a lot of very good players, it is a tough league, and that has prepared us.

“We’ve played five or six games with the St. Helen’s reserve team, but we’re both now on loan with Montpelier and playing French Division One with them. We’ve had to learn very quickly having been thrown in at the deep end. But sure it’s probably the best way to learn!”

And he reckons that Ireland could become a happy hunting ground for Rugby League talent spotters. “From speaking to them in St. Helen’s they’re very impressed with the class that was on display last May and they’re looking to hold another camp here now. They did feel that Aaron and myself had the best chance from our group but they were impressed with the general standard.”

The pair certainly have the size and the power for league. Cross is 6’3” and 15-stone but is dwarfed by McCloskey, who stands 6’7” and weighs in at 19½ stone. Given that Leinster recently staged an open day for guys of 6’6” and over, including guys who had never played any kind of rugby, it seems strange Munster would let someone of Aaron’s size go. They weren’t showing much interest, however, and he wasn’t for hanging around.

McCloskey revealed: “There are other professional teams outside of Munster. I was in the Munster Academy at U16, played an A game, but that was as far as it went. I wasn’t on any Schools panels or anything. I don’t think I was ever going to get a shot with Munster, so when this came up I jumped at it – I suppose I just got lucky with this break.”

In times when so much of our news is bad, this is a heartening tale.

McCloskey admitted: “For us, to have an international in Thomond Park this early in our careers is massive – I’m really relishing the thought of getting onto the pitch! 2013 and the World Cup is the big aim now, to get into that squad. They’re trying to have one of the Ireland pool games in Thomond Park and if they succeed, and if we manage to make that panel, that will be massive – not just for us but for the city as well.

Ireland: P Barcoe (Carlow), E Cosgrove (Dewsbury), L Finn, J Mulhern (both Featherstone), B Beswick, P Handforth, J Haley (all Halifax), G McNally (Huddersfield), L Ambler, C Casey (both Leeds), J Taylor (North Dublin), P Boyle (Oxford), T Bergin, P Smith (both Sheffield), I Cross, A McCloskey (both St Helens), G Corcoran (Toulouse), K Amor (Wakefield), T McCarthy (Warrington), S Carmody (York).

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