“I want to be Leicester number-one this year at scrumhalf. Obviously I’m hoping that my form here will improve my chances with the Ireland team.” – Tom Tierney.
Media day at Welford Road, and former Richmond, Garryowen and Munster scrumhalf Tom Tierney is fielding questions on a clubhouse telephone. It’s the Wednesday after Leicester’s first Pool game as defending Heineken Cup champions, a 16-16 draw away to Neath, a game played in atrocious weather conditions.
At twenty-six years of age,Tierney’s career lies on the curve of the unopened banana in his training bag. A debilitating shoulder injury, apres Twickenham 2000 left Tierney third in line behind his provincial pretenders, Mike Prendergast of Young Munster and Shannon’s Derek Hegarty. Leicester’s supposed target during the summer months was Munster first choice Peter Stringer, but Tigers’ head coach Dean Richards was “delighted” to have secured Tierney’s services last July.
After months of frustration, the six footer from Fairgreen, Limerick had a tunnel of light to beckon him into the autumn. And the lure of first team rugby, despite his advanced billing as small fry ‘back-up’.
When I purposely begin a question with a statement that he has played four times for the Tigers already this season, Tierney is razor sharp to point out, “it’s five.” Every one is precious, albeit a shelf below his eight treasured Ireland caps, some of the last of which were from the travails and tribulations of the ’99 World Cup. Forgetting Lens, Tierney’s abiding memory of that time, is sitting beside ‘The Claw’, singing Fairgreen’s town song ‘We are the Greeners’ together, and little by little, the whole Irish squad had adopted it as their coach song’.
Even though the Leicester website states that Tom Tierney is from the future (Date of Birth 2076 apparently), he is totally focused on living his life in the present. “I’ve settled in really well here,” he announces. “You know, I’m just keeping my head down. Enjoying the training, which is nothing different from what I was doing with Munster. It’s just as intense and I think it’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a 9-5 job. We’re in from 9 and finished at four o”lock on training days.”
Tierney is sharing a house close by with another recent recruit, well-traveled former Welsh under 19 hooker, Rhys Williams. “He’s a quiet lad and we get on well. He’s one of the nicest people you could want to live with. No late nights, we’re working hard over here and as I said it’s ‘head down’ really.”
You get the feeling, he repeats his mantra in his sleep. On his arrival at Welford Road, he was greeted by three other signings, including Williams. French prop Franck Tournaire (from Toulouse), and also Gareth Raynor (from Rugby League club Hull) were fostered in as Richards’ cubs. “I get on well with the guys. Out of the squad, I suppose, Tournaire and Rhys obviously, and Leon Lloyd. I’ve got on well with the backs’ coach Rob Kaefer also. The banter is good at Welford Road; the lads get great fun out of Geordan and myself because we’re Irish. Lots of stick.’ Pikey’ as he is known to his teammates, was voted Man of the Match by the Leicester fans after last Friday night’s draw with the Welsh All-Blacks at the Gnoll. He enjoyed the experience, but found it difficult all the same.”
“It wasn’t the standard or the pace of the game, just the weather. It was bucketing down and although I had a good game, it was tense right up until the end. We had to roll up the sleeves. The crowd were incredible and kept going, all 7,400. I think we were unlucky with the decision at the end. Franck said to me afterwards that he didn’t touch the Neath guy. Austin and the guys were fuming. We lost the points after coming back into the game, but at least we didn’t lose it.”
Thirty-year-old Tournaire was adjudged to have stamped on a Neath forward in the last minute of the game, referee David McHugh gave the penalty, without hesitation. But Leicester might consider themselves content with a draw, when casting an eye over their Zurich Premiership season record of three losses in three straight away games. A poor start to their league season can be rectified without any undo pressure as the ERC have granted the Tigers the golden ticket of an Italian side in their Pool for this year’s Heineken Cup – namely Calvisano, who they entertain this Saturday.
“I’m in again for Saturday’s game and that has given me great confidence, getting a run in this established side. Our objectives for this season are to finish first in the Zurich Premiership and to qualify out of our Pool in the Heineken. I think we can manage both and who knows what will happen in Europe. I haven’t had a chance to size up the opposition in the other pools. We had a day off after last Friday and I just rested up.”
Tierney’s personal objectives are clear in his own mind. “I want to be Leicester number-one this year at scrumhalf. I’ve made a good start and just have to keep working and performing. My passing is getting there and it is fabulous to work with such a talented squad of players. Obviously I’m hoping that my form here will improve my chances with the Ireland team. I know I just have to bide my time and my chance will come. I want to be noticed over here. I want to play in the 2003 World Cup – that is my goal and I want to be first team when Australia comes around.”