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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


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Blair: “Collectively, we were just off it.”

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The Italian side held on for a 24-17 win with Rhyno Smith’s late score the difference in a back-and-forth battle at Stadio Monigo.

“Yeah, it’s definitely disappointing,” said Blair. “We knew this was going to be a really tough game with the team that they picked.

“Benetton were excellent and managed the game really well after the red card. They were really smart. But I said to the players at half-time that the game was still in our hands.”

Benetton went down to 14 men in the 10th minute when debutant Matteo Minozzi was sent off for dangerous play after his boot – in the process of gathering a high ball – made contact with Wes Goosen’s face, leaving the winger with a nasty cut.

Edinburgh failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage however, with Benetton proving too shrewd in defence despite being a man down.

“We’ve seen it before, though, with red cards and how it can really galvanise a team. It brings emotion into it and gives them that backs-to-the-wall type of mentality,” continued Blair.

“But we’ve got to be better than that. We’ve got to see that as an opportunity. I think we waited and thought that (red card) was going to be the thing that won us game.

“But that wasn’t the case. It’s your physicality, your relentlessness nature of attack, persistence in defence, your smarts – that’s what wins you games.  Collectively, we were just off it.

“I don’t think you can put it down to one thing. We always speak about what we want the perception of us to be from others.

“That perception is around the ruthless and clinical nature of our attack, as well as physicality in defence. We didn’t get that today.”

Edinburgh finish this block of fixtures without its Scotland internationalists having won two out of three road matches, with Saturday’s defeat to Benetton ending a three-match winning streak.

The capital side now turn their attention to Munster this coming Friday night (2 December, kick-off 7.35pm) in a match-up that sees Edinburgh return home to DAM Health Stadium for the first time in over a month.

“This period is an opportunity for the club. This group of players won away against Zebre and Cardiff, so there’s been some real positives.

“This was a tough game to come back to after the break for a few weeks. We were just off it in a couple of areas and that’s something we need to fix moving forward to next week.”

Content & Images from – Edinburgh Rugby


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Timani returns to fitness as Cardiff name side to face Sharks

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Lopeti Timani returns to the Cardiff line-up for the opening clash of their BKT United Rugby Championship double-header in South Africa.

With the Blue and Blacks kicking off their tour in Durban against Cell C Sharks on Sunday (KO 4.10pm), Tongan international Timani, who missed the home clash against Edinburgh last month, takes his place in the second row alongside Rory Thornton.

Captain Josh Turnbull will wear the number six jersey, with Thomas Young and James Botham completing the back row, while Rhys Carré, Liam Belcher and Dmitri Arhip form the front row. 

Behind the pack Jarrod Evans and Lloyd Williams continue their partnership at half back. Rey Lee-Lo returns to the midfield for the first time since the away win over Scarlets, linking up with Max Llewellyn in the centre.

Finally, having made his URC debut in South Africa last season, Theo Cabango is again given the nod on the wing. Jason Harries occupies the opposite touchline, while Ben Thomas slots in at 15.

Cardiff director or rugby, Dai Young said: “We’re looking forward to testing ourselves against a quality team in the Sharks on Sunday.

“We were disappointed with our last game out here last season so we have plenty of motivation to put things right and we’ve shown we are heading in the right direction and we want to build upon that.  

“It is important now that we keep that momentum and confidence and show we have learnt and developed from last season.

“We know what to expect from the Sharks and they are formidable at home but we are in a good place. We will need to perform at our best and if we do that then there is no reason why we cannot make a statement.”

Cardiff have named a six-two split on the bench, with youngsters Ellis Bevan and Mason Grady providing cover for the back-line.

Seb Davies is passed fit to feature, having been on the sidelines since mid-October, while there are further fire-power from the likes of Kristian Dacey, Corey Domachowski and James Ratti.

Cardiff will also take on Vodacom Bulls during their time in the Rainbow Nation, before turning their attention to Europe and the festive derbies.

Cardiff: Ben Thomas; Jason Harries, Rey Lee-Lo, Max Llewellyn, Theo Cabango; Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Carré, Liam Belcher, Dmitri Arhip, Lopeti Timani, Rory Thornton, Josh Turnbull (capt.), Thomas Young, James Botham

Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Corey Domachowski, Will Davies-King, Seb Davies, Gwilym Bradley, James Ratti, Ellis Bevan, Mason Grady

Unavailable for selection: Dillon Lewis, Josh Navidi, Taulupe Faletau, Tomos Williams, Rhys Priestland, Owen Lane, Willis Halaholo, Josh Adams, Liam Williams, Matthew Morgan, Jacob Beetham.

Content & Images from – Cardiff Rugby


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Internationals return for Munster interpro at Thomond Park

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Six Connacht players who were with the Ireland squad in November have come into the starting lineup for tomorrow’s interpro with Munster in Limerick (k/o 7.35pm).
 
Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Cian Prendergast, Caolin Blade and Bundee Aki are all named in the starting lineup, as the squad aim to make it three straight wins in the BKT URC.
 
Denis Buckley joins Heffernan and Bealham in the front row while Josh Murphy is selected alongside Thornbury in the second row. Prendergast is named at blindside flanker, with Conor Oliver at openside and Jarrad Butler at number 8.
 
Captain Jack Carty continues at out-half while Tom Farrell partners Aki in the centre. The side is completed by wingers Alex Wootton and Byron Ralston, and full-back John Porch.
 
On the bench there’s a notable return for Shane Delahunt, who has recovered from an 8-month injury layoff for a potential first appearance of the season. The management team have opted for a 6:2 split, meaning Niall Murray, Oisin Dowling and Paul Boyle could all be called upon.
 
Commenting on the team selection, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
 
“Everyone had ten days off after the Ospreys game which I think was needed for coaches and players. Now that we have everyone back it’s all eyes on Munster for the start of an important ten week block for us, and we’re well positioned for these games going forward.
 
Munster away at Thomond Park is never an easy task but I thought we were close last year and the previous year we won there. You can’t just rock up to Thomond and think you’re going to win, you’ve got to work your backside off and bring an element of physicality along with accuracy in what you are doing”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS MUNSTER RUGBY
Saturday 26th November, 19:35 @ Thomond Park
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. John Porch (66)
14. Byron Ralston (6)
13. Tom Farrell (83)
12. Bundee Aki (119)
11. Alex Wootton (37)
10. Jack Carty (184) (C)
9. Caolin Blade (154)
1. Denis Buckley (215)
2. Dave Heffernan (171)
3. Finlay Bealham (173)
4. Josh Murphy (5)
5. Gavin Thornbury (68)
6. Cian Prendergast (33)
7. Conor Oliver (47)
8. Jarrad Butler (100)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (117)
17. Peter Dooley (5)
18. Jack Aungier (38)
19. Niall Murray (40)
20. Oisín Dowling (31)
21. Kieran Marmion (215)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (57)
23. Paul Boyle (79)

Images & Content from – Connacht Rugby


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