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Where are they now?: Niall Ronan

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THEN – Niall earned 37 caps for Leinster over four seasons (2003-2007). 

NOW – The Managing Director of Titan Wellness is living in Meath with his wife Jaimie and two children Lily (6) and Felix (3).

Niall Ronan owes Leinster a debt of gratitude for how it prepared the flanker for the professional game.

In fairness, the Meathman was turned from a bundle of raw energy into a valuable commodity at Munster where he spent seven seasons, becoming a centurion and even grabbing four caps for his country.

“GAA has been my life. It was all I ever wanted. I would have played Meath U14s, U16s and two years at minor. At that point, my goal was to play for my county,” he says.

“Rugby didn’t really register with me. I played for Boyne Rugby, amalgamated from Drogheda and Delvin rugby clubs. It only hit my radar at 17 when I was called up for the Leinster Youths.

“To be honest, I didn’t know what the Leinster Youths were at the time,” he declares.

What caused such a drastic change of course, the dream shifting from Meath in Croke Park to Leinster at The RDS?

“The professionalism of rugby really opened my eyes to a career in which you could get paid to play and travel the world,” he says.

“A big turning point was when I got picked for Ireland to play in the U19 World Cup in Chile, a new experience.”

It was around then that Niall came into contact with Collie McEntee, the former Lansdowne and Leinster number eight, a fellow loose forward and Steve Aboud, an outside-the-box thinker with a drill sergeant attitude to discipline.

“The detail in the coaching was also an attraction. It was a lot better than it was in the GAA. I didn’t know where the journey would take me. But, I knew I wanted to go on it.

“Two years later, I went in blind. I would have known Brian O’Driscoll But, I didn’t know many of the players.

“When you are training with those international players, you soon get to know all about what they can do and you learn so much from the more experienced players.”

He was offered his first part-time contract with Leinster after impressing at the U21 World Cup, turning down a full-time deal to move West to Connacht.

In that first season, Australian Gary Ella came in as head coach. Niall ended up playing the last six or seven matches of the season due to injuries to Keith Gleeson and Shane Jennings, enough to earn Young Player of the Year. That was my highest moment there.

“It was a dream come true really. I was playing with a team of internationals. You had Felipe Contepomi, Gordon D’Arcy, Brian O’Driscoll, Shane Horgan, Denis Hickie and Girvan Dempsey.

In the forwards, there was Malcolm O’Kelly, Victor Costello, Eric Miller, who I would have looked up to then, Shane Byrne.”

A breakthrough season brought the promise of greater things to come. Afterall, the kid from nowhere had become a name on the lips of so many.

The lack of top-quality rugby in his early teenage years left the impression of a higher ceiling than many of those around him. It never really turned out that way for a multitude of reasons.

“In my time there, I had four different coaches in four seasons. You had Gary Ella. You Declan Kidney – he left early. You had Gerry Murphy in an interim role. You had Michael Cheika.

“I had Keith Gleeson and Shane Jennings ahead of me. I learned a lot during a frustrating four seasons. I feel a lot of gratitude towards Leinster for how they moulded me from a raw player to a professional.

“When a new coach comes in, he will have his opinion on the way he wants to play and the players in his squad. You have to build trust and sometimes change their opinion of what you can offer.

“When they go, someone else comes in. That happened every season I was there and it became harder to generate continuity, especially when there are internationals ahead of you in the queue. That is how it was. That is professional sport.”

“There was a lot of chopping and changing. It was challenging for me because I wasn’t at the same level I reached later on in my career at Munster.

“You have to accept the challenge and go about proving people wrong. That was the mindset for most of my career.”

He went on to nurture tremendous friendships with Kieran Potts, Simon Crawford, John Lyne and Gary Brown.

At the end of three years, Cheika shared the fact Ulster and Connacht were interested in his signature. He turned those down.

At the end of four years, Jennings had resigned with Leinster from Leicester Tigers. There was no contract on the table for Niall. There was no choice. He had to leave Leinster.

At 24, he had no interest in moving to the second tier in England. He was in limbo, seriously considering retiring from rugby.

Then, Declan Kidney came calling with a contract for Munster. Now, Niall had not been selected by Kidney in his short stint at Leinster. There was no guarantee of playing time.

“If you have a choice between retiring and playing for Munster, the top club in European Rugby at the time, what do you do? You sign for Munster.

“It turned into a dream come true in my sevens seasons there. My career went on an upward curve and I played four times for Ireland.”

In a strange way, Leinster had taken Niall on as a late bloomer, provided an apprenticeship, fast-tracked his talent, coached him up to be ready to produce his best at Munster.

“Leinster is a totally different place now to what it was then. I am sure the players would agree on that,” states Niall..

“There was dysfunction, coaches and players coming in and out. There was no chance to build anything.

“I would be the first to admit that the first four or five seasons of your career are the most important, in terms of getting where you want to get to whether it is playing international rugby or at the highest club level for a long time.

“My time was a great experience. I loved every minute of it. But, when you don’t play, you get frustrated.”

In 2014, Niall walked away from the game courtesy of a knee injury. He had been smart enough to complete a degree in Strength & Conditioning and all his coaching badges.

He set up his own company Titan Wellness, described on its’ website as “Ireland’s largest

fitness facilities management company and wellness service provider.”

He also returned to his first love, working for three years as head of S&C for Andy McEntee’s Meath senior footballers.

“What I took from rugby was how to be disciplined, how to work hard, how to communicate and collaborate with people,” he says.

“When I retired, I set up a company called Titan Wellness to provide workplace well-being solutions to corporates all over Ireland.

“That means we go into businesses to support them in creating a positive environment where productivity improves by having fitness classes or educational talks on sleep, nutrition or desktop massage to reward people for their work.

“It is the same as rugby where good feedback from a coach on how to work within a team helps to generate success.”

Images & Content from Leinster Rugby


Champions Cup

Academy Trio Stepping Up & Contract News

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Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to announce that Academy trio Tony Butler, Ethan Coughlan and Mark Donnelly will be promoted to the senior squad in the summer.

We can also confirm that hooker Scott Buckley, who graduated from the Academy to the senior squad in 2022, has signed a contract extension.

Out-half Butler, scrum-half Coughlan (both 21) and 22-year-old prop Donnelly have all signed on for the next two seasons after impressing over their three years in the Academy.

Butler and Coughlan become the first Ennis RFC players to earn senior Munster contracts.

As previously confirmed, Academy lock Edwin Edogbo (21), who also came up through the Munster Youths system with Cobh Pirates, will graduate from the Academy to the senior squad on a two-year deal next season.

Buckley, Butler, Coughlan and Donnelly all made their Munster debuts in the famous Champions Cup win over Wasps in December 2021.

Tony Butler in action against Dragons.

Tony Butler in action against Dragons.

Ennis out-half Tony Butler has earned his first senior contract after a very productive three years in the Academy.

He has made six senior appearances to date, including two starts so far this season against Dragons and Connacht.

A Grand Slam winner with the Ireland U20s in 2022, Butler now plays his AIL rugby with Young Munster having previously lined out for Garryowen.

He captained Ennis at underage level, teaming up with Coughlan in the half-backs as they enjoyed success in the Munster U16 and U18 Clubs competitions.

Scrum-half Ethan Coughlan is enjoying an excellent campaign with three starts so far this year and eight senior appearances in total since joining the Academy.

He enjoyed great success alongside Butler with Ennis RFC at underage level before captaining the Ireland U18 Clubs team.

He also won a Grand Slam with the Ireland U20s in 2022 and plays his AIL rugby with Shannon.

Prop Mark Donnelly has already made nine senior appearances for Munster after coming up through the ranks at Midleton RFC, Midleton College and CBC.

He was a Pinergy Munster Schools Senior Cup winner with CBC in 2019 and featured for the Ireland U20s in the 2021 Six Nations.

He joined the Academy that summer before making his Munster debut along with Buckley, Butler and Coughlan against Wasps in December 2021

Along with his nine senior Munster appearances, Donnelly has also played regularly for Garryowen in the AIL over the past three years.

Mark Donnelly at Munster training.

Mark Donnelly at Munster training.

Hooker Scott Buckley (23) has signed a one-year contract having made 25 appearances for Munster to date.

A product of the Munster Rugby Academy, Buckley started out with Kinsale RFC before captaining CBC to the Pinergy Munster Schools Senior Cup in 2019.

He was Player of the Match against Wasps on his Munster debut and made nine appearances last season as Munster won the URC title.

A UCC clubman, he scored the match-winning try against Crusaders at Páirc Ui Chaoimh earlier this month.

Scott Buckley scores a try against Leinster in pre-season.

Images & Content from Munster Rugby


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URC

Squad Update Ahead Of Zebre At Virgin Media Park

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The Munster squad are preparing at the HPC ahead of Friday night’s URC Round 11 clash against Zebre at Virgin Media Park (7.35pm).

There are a limited number of tickets available here.

25 players lined out in the thrilling encounter against Harlequins on Friday night, including eight Academy players and two young club players. Scroll down for match highlights.

The squad is boosted by the return of Tom Ahern, Craig Casey and Jeremy Loughman from international duty ahead of Friday night’s clash in Cork.

On the injury front, Academy back-row forward Ruadhán Quinn has completed the return to play protocols and is available for selection.

Following the game against Harlequins on Friday night, Academy duo Shay McCarthy (ankle) and Daniel Okeke (elbow) will go for scans and are unavailable this week.

Continuing to rehab: Simon Zebo (knee), Patrick Campbell (shoulder), John Hodnett (finger), Paddy Patterson (knee), Jack O’Donoghue (knee), Dave Kilcoyne (shoulder), Diarmuid Barron (foot), Jean Kleyn (eye/knee), Liam Coombes (shoulder), Roman Salanoa (knee).

Video | Harlequins v Munster Highlights

Tickets

URC Round 11: Friday, March 1

Munster v Zebre Parma, Virgin Media Park, 7.35pm; Buy final tickets here

U20s 6 Nations Round 5: Friday, March 15

Ireland v Scotland, Virgin Media Park, 7pm; Buy final tickets here

URC Round 13: Saturday, March 30

Munster v Cardiff Rugby, Thomond Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here

Women’s 6 Nations Round 3: Saturday, April 13

Ireland v Wales, Virgin Media Park, 4.45pm; Buy tickets here

URC Round 16: Saturday, May 11

Munster v Connacht, Thomond Park, 5.15pm; Buy tickets here

URC Round 18: Saturday, June 1

Munster v Ulster, Thomond Park, 5.15pm; Buy tickets here

Images & Content from Munster Rugby


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URC

Dan McFarland departs Ulster Rugby

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Dan McFarland departs Ulster Rugby

3 minutes ago

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Ulster Rugby and the IRFU can confirm that Dan McFarland will step down from his position as Head Coach.

After joining the club in 2018, McFarland has been the longest-serving Head Coach for the province in the professional era, with the club reliably securing play-off rugby in URC and EPCR competitions during his time at the helm, including reaching the PRO14 final in 2020.

Ulster Rugby CEO, Jonny Petrie, said:

“We would like to thank Dan for his determination in driving forward the professional squad over the past six seasons, and I would like to wish him and his family the best for the future on behalf of all at Ulster Rugby.”

The change to the Senior Men’s coaching set-up is with immediate effect, with Ireland U20s Head Coach, Richie Murphy, to link-up with the province as interim Head Coach until the end of this season following the Under-20s Six Nations. Bryn Cunningham, Head of Rugby Operations and Recruitment at Ulster Rugby, will also assume greater management responsibilities within the performance function during this time.

Assistant Coach, Dan Soper, will oversee operations next week ahead of Ulster facing Dragons at Kingspan Stadium in Round 11 of the BKT United Rugby Championship.

Petrie continued: “With Richie coming to Ulster in the coming weeks, ahead of the squad travelling to South Africa, our focus will be on consistently performing to the best of our abilities at this crucial time of the year.”

Images & Content – Ulster Rugby


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