Wallabies driven on by proud Irish heart

Conor McGregor is an unlikely inspiration behind Australia’s run to the World Cup final.
Wallabies driven on by proud Irish heart

But speak to members of the Wallaby camp and they all agree that ‘McGregor’ has been vitally important to their progress over the last 12 weeks.

He hasn’t made a hit, passed a ball or scored a try. But Cathal Garvey – the man they all know as ‘McGregor’ – has made a huge impact.

In 2003, Garvey could be found captaining a Munster U21 side that included the likes of Tomás O’Leary and Donncha Ryan.

But now he has a very different role as the analyst for the Wallaby team. His story is an unusual and inspiring one, and those around the team talk of him in glowing terms – with one exception, back on July 11.

The Wallabies were well into pre-tournament camp by the point that McGregor fought Chad Mendes in his bid to become UFC champion and as such a restful night was in order.There was no chance with Garvey on the scene, however. Garvey’s celebrations after his compatriot’s victory were long and loud, and a nickname was born.

“We call him McGregor because he celebrated so loudly when Conor McGregor won the UFC title,” laughed prop Scott Sio yesterday.

“That’s a little joke we have between each other. But he is great, and it’s good to have another accent around the place. Positions such as his aren’t given the credit they’re due. He does so much work behind the scenes. He stays up until the early hours, codes everything for us and makes sure the next morning we can watch every clip.

“When he is on point and the team is on point then everything can flow. He really is great to have around the place.” And Garvey’s role is symptomatic of the creeping influence of Ireland on this Australian side. Those with the ‘green’ prominent in the green-and-gold include captain Stephen Moore, fly-half Bernard Foley and the head coach, Michael Cheika.

The first two have Irish blood, while Cheika’s career blossomed in Leinster and three of his children have Irish passports.

But Garvey’s story is the most astounding. He spent five years playing for UL Bohemian at senior level before moving to Wanderers. It was there a serious injury ended his playing career in 2008.

Three years later he emigrated to Australia and picked up a job as business analyst at the Australian Rugby Union (ARU). While there, Garvey got to know then-Wallaby head coach Ewen McKenzie and was appointed the side’s analyst.

If you think this was a job for the boys, think again. Cheika – not a man to suffer fools gladly – kept Garvey on when he succeeded McKenzie, to ensure there is a genuine Irishman at the heart of the Wallabies.

“Initially, I was a business analyst, working in various business departments,” Garvey told the Limerick Leader

last year, with the Australian media team ensuring he is kept away from the microphones during this World Cup.

“I got great exposure on how sports business operates. I had been working in the office beside the former Wallaby coaches, Ewen McKenzie and the high performance unit and built up a rapport through discussions on the game.

“Just after the June series, Ewen gave me a call and asked me if I would be interested in the position of analyst for the team.

“I started it in early July. I had a month and a half to prep for the first Bledisloe Cup game (versus New Zealand) in mid-August. There are a lot of different aspects to my role - anything from recording, cutting and studying training to test match previews and reviews, both team and individual focused.

“You are setting up a mobile office every week on tour. There is also opposition analysis which I have been doing a lot of on this tour. It is full-on, but it is a fantastic experience.

“Michael Cheika has been great to work with. You learn a lot from each coach you work under, and Michael’s passion and enthusiasm has been infectious.”

Cheika’s rugby passion was certainly evident during his five-year spell with Leinster, and he credits his time with the region and transformation of the culture there as key to what he has been able to achieve in little more than a year with the Wallabies.

But it is the captain, Moore, who has the closest links to Ireland – and could even have been playing between Cian Healy and Mike Ross at this World Cup. The hooker spent the first five years of his life in Tuam, Galway, before his Irish parents moved Down Under, and sporting talent clearly runs in the family with his cousin, Patrick O’Rourke, playing in goal for Meath.

“There was a bit of interest there with my background,” said Moore of an approach Ireland made to see if he would be interested in playing for them when he was just 19.

“When it came down to it, it wasn’t a difficult decision. I had always grown up following Australia and wanting to play for the Wallabies.

“I’ve been in Australia since I was five years old, I’ve grown up in Australia and I consider myself a proud Australian. But in saying that I’m very proud of my heritage.

“I’ve been very lucky to have the opportunity to play for Australia and every moment of it has been fabulous. I haven’t regretted it at all. I think there are plenty of guys in that boat as well, particularly some of the Polynesian guys that have played for Australia.

“They probably go through a similar type of emotion where you can see that they have a strong connection to where they’re from. I was very similar to that and I still am.”

M

oore – who cites Keith Wood as his hero – is not alone in having those connections, with Foley discovering his Cork heritage recently. A trip to Ireland after the tournament has not been ruled out.

“My Dad followS the family history very closely, and we definitely come from Cork or Munster territory,” Foley told the Irish Examiner

before the quarter-final with Scotland.

“I’ve never actually been there. I think it’s our third or fourth generation in Australia, so it’s a while back.”

With Kane Douglas having spent a season at Leinster then Irish supporters do not lack for reasons to support the Wallabies against New Zealand this weekend.

And if Australia are crowned world champions tomorrow then expect one Irish voice to dominate the celebrations as ‘McGregor’ lives up to his nickname.

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