From loosehead to poet, Tom Clancy takes it all in his stride

There is always too much made of the discovery of a cerebral sportsperson. Who will ever forget the mileage British soccer hacks got from the discovery that England defender Graeme Le Saux had a degree and read The Guardian?

Still though, you just don’t expect a prop to recite poetry, never mind write enough of quality to have a book published. But that is the story of Tom Clancy, a loosehead who was capped nine times for Ireland in the late 1980s.

The former Connacht, Lansdowne, and Old Belvedere forward always had a love of poetry but it is only recently that he released the shackles on his hidden talent.

“I had written some stuff around 25 years ago and remembered that people had liked it” says Clancy from his Arklow home.

“On New Year’s Eve 2012 I wrote a poem and put it up on Facebook and got a great reaction. A friend, Elaine Murphy, encouraged me to put some more up and then she sent one called ‘The Home Place’ to Ireland’s Own and they published it in their annual. That gave me great confidence.”

Clancy found that his love of nature and classical Irish folklore spawned many more poems and suddenly he had enough for a collection. “There was a lot of stuff in there so I just started to write it down. I just concentrated on learning and getting a technique together and people seemed to like it so I’ll keep at it.”

Original Writing were certainly impressed and published Poems From an Irish Hearth, which was launched to very positive reviews at the end of September. He is already well into producing his second anthology.

For years, his creativity went towards music after his retirement from rugby just as the professional era dawned.

He has recorded material as a solo artist and with the band The Schnipes, whose lively version of ‘Ireland’s Call’ is well worth a listen, while he is still gigging with Don McGuinness. He remains a keen rugby enthusiast and looks back fondly on his playing days. Although a Dubliner, Clancy accepted an invitation to play with Connacht because of strong family links with Roscommon and Leitrim.

It is a decision he never regretted, even though it might have inhibited his international prospects. “I was actually told by someone in the IRFU hierarchy if I went to Connacht I wouldn’t be capped but I got there in the end. Maybe if I’d have stayed in Leinster I would have played more but I’m glad I went to Connacht for the people I met and the times we had.

“Just to pull on the jersey at all was a great achievement. It was the greatest moment of your life. To be going out on Lansdowne Road, or Cardiff Arms Park, it was a dream come true. We toured North America and New Zealand.

“I was lucky enough to play with the likes of Tony Ward when we beat France. And I played club rugby with Ollie Campbell. Also John O’Driscoll, the great wing-forward.”

Dave Henshaw, an uncle of Ireland centre Robbie, propped on the other side of the Connacht scrum to Clancy. He played the fiddle as a session broke out at the book launch. “I think young Rob plays music. All the Henshaws play. Davy was a hardy bit of stuff. It was Prop Idol on the night,” he laughs.

Clancy has enjoyed the World Cup and thinks Ireland can prevail tomorrow against Argentina. “It’s been fantastic. It’s a pity about Paul O’Connell. What a legend and what a loss but having him around the camp is great.

“I think Joe Schmidt is doing what we were always told to do and he does it to perfection, is do the basics really well. There is no secret to it. He does them to a tee; From kickouts to lineouts, the setpiece, tackling. Everyone doing their job.

“They can beat Argentina as long as they keep their feet on the ground and I think with Schmidt and O’Connell and some of the other boys, there’ll be no problem there. But the Argies are a dangerous outfit so we must keep our feet on the ground and if we do, we can do it but only just.”

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