How does an Irish man end up coaching Cyprus to a historic win in their first rugby international?
They say it is a long way from Clare to here, but they never tell you where ‘here’ is.
For one Irish man ‘here’ is Paphos in Cyprus and for Clare read Belvedere College. It is still a long an interesting journey.
Niall Doherty has made this journey and in so doing as just helped to coach the Cyprus rugby team to a historic win over neighbours Greece.
Niall started out as the link man to former Ireland International legend Ollie Campbell. He was scrum half in the 1971 Belvedere College side that won the Leinster Schools Senior Cup.
On leaving school he played for the First XV down at Old Belvedere in Anglesea Road for a number of years – again supplying the ball for his school mate Campbell.
Doherty, a Dublin native, went on to play for North Kildare for a number of seasons. His career took him abroad but his love of rugby kept him involved in the game and he has coached rugby as far afield as Bulgaria and Ukraine.
Niall moved to Cyprus in 2002 following retirement from his full time job due to illness. Since that time from a sporting prospective, it has all being fun! He has been coaching Paphos Tigers, who have become the top civilian side in the League.
Niall does get home to Ireland on a regular basis and has attended the IRFU Level 2 coaching course on one of these visits. It was this combined with his experience at Paphos Tigers that led to him being asked to take on the national job in Cyprus.
They played their first ever international match last weekend against Greece. They got off to the best possible start running out winners by 39 – 3.
“We gave the Greeks a real surprise”, said Niall, “It was a big shock to rugby followers in this part of the world, but not to me. Greece are on top of their European group right now but we have a really good side.
We have a player from the Natal Sharks and also a guy that played for Bath and is now at London Welsh. We have a wonderful squad of lads; many are South African born with Cypriot parents who have returned to their roots.”
“We have a number of Cypriots who are living in the UK and playing their rugby there and also there are the home based players. We also have a Turkish Cypriot player – which shows how rugby continues to break boundaries.”
“The secret is bringing the guys together in a very short period of time in order to gel for the game. The lads at home know they have to work very hard to raise their level of performance. It’s a great challenge and its wonderful fun as well.”
Match over, win recorded, time to move on. Niall and the Cyprus team plan to build on this most auspicious of starts and they have busy times ahead. Cyprus has been accepted into FIRA. They start the long road to the Rugby World Cup 2011 in November of this year.
They are grouped with Monaco, Finland, and Azerbaijan and yes you guessed it Greece!
Niall will also be bringing a Cyprus Sevens side to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in two years time.
Like any good coach he is always looking to strengthen his squad, “Maybe there are some guys back in Ireland who qualify? You need to be Cypriot born or have a Cypriot parent or grandparent; also if you are resident on the Island for three years you can qualify, we have three players at present who qualify under that rule – that might be an attractive prospect for some people!”
Niall hopes to continue developing his coaching skills. Who knows, one day his name might just feature in the coaching ranks here in Ireland? If it does you saw it ‘here’ first!
IrishRugby.ie would like to wish Niall and the Cyprus team all the best in their rugby future.
For more on Cyprus Rugby – click here.
For more on Paphos Tigers and Niall – click here.
For information on the IRFU National Coaching Development Plan – click here.