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Semi-Final Interview: Garryowen’s Greig Oliver

Semi-Final Interview: Garryowen’s Greig Oliver

Greig Oliver has really enjoyed his first season as Garryowen’s technical director, and it is not over yet with the club’s senior side taking on Shannon in Saturday’s crunch AIB League Division One semi-final tie at Coonagh.

IrishRugby.ie asked Greig Oliver, the former Scotland scrum half, about his technical director’s role at Dooradoyle and his thoughts on this weekend’s televised meeting of Garryowen, the defending Division One champions, and the eight-time winners Shannon.

“I’m working with great people here who have been so supportive in what we are trying to achieve,” Oliver admitted.

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“Limerick breathes rugby and there is no better place to be working and living, and my family have settled in really well.”

Explaining his work with the club, he said: “Working with Philip Danaher, Garryowen’s chairman of rugby, we have struck up a rapport to improve the club from the senior club right through to the youngsters coming through the Dooradoyle gates for their first experience of rugby.

“My remit includes overseeing the coaching structure of all teams, with emphasis on the firsts and seconds, creating an environment for coaches and players to learn and pushing the game we play in the club to a new level.

“I am constantly looking to develop my coaching and knowledge of the game and sharing is part of that process. It keeps you honest.”

The 43-year-old, who hails from Hawick, won two Test caps for Scotland including a start against Zimbabwe in the 1991 Rugby World Cup.

Now living with his wife and family in Murroe, Oliver is a very highly regarded coach with his work this season with Munster scrum half Tomas O’Leary drawing high praise from Declan Kidney last week.

“After my playing days came to an abrupt end, I worked with the Scottish Rugby Union for near-on 13 years in Glasgow, Edinburgh and my native Borders, coaching Scotland Under-20s and Under-21s, as well as coaching my club Hawick,” he said. 

“I was Academy Manager in Edinburgh and the Borders, so the natural progression is to keep on developing.

“As my wife Fiona hails from Limerick, we enjoyed many a holiday with visits to Dooradoyle as my father-in-law Sean McNamara is Garryowen through and through.

“The opportunity to work with Garryowen came from Philip Danaher, who was taking over the chairman of rugby role from Declan Madden, and it all moved on from there.”

The obvious question is – given his range of coaching across a number of leagues – what does the Scot think of the standard of AIB League rugby?

He admitted: “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the physical nature of AIB League Division One, which compares favourably with the Scottish Premier League and the majority of the English National League.

“I have found that if you are not right on any given Saturday in the AIB League, you can pay the price.

“However, we all need to push the limits of our game to use the space, either laterally or in the channels, more effectively.

“That comes down to the ability and skill set of our players and the ability and vision of the coaches.”

Coaching the Garryowen first team this season are Dara O’Sullivan and Ray Egan and the pair, together with Oliver, have just overseen a club record of ten AIB League wins in-a-row.

Asked has he found his first season in Irish club rugby challenging, Oliver said: “We are in a challenging environment and I must have the ability to perform as I did as a player.

“The previous coaching set-up of Paul Cunningham and Killian Keane have been a tremendous help to me this season and that is a testament to their characters.

“It’s all about helping players reach their potential by improving themselves and marrying this into a team and club environment, that they can push themselves and their team-mates to the next level.”

Last season was an historic one for Garryowen as they won a senior treble of titles – the AIB League, AIB Cup and Munster Senior Cup crowns – and were also Munster Junior Cup winners.

They have lost their grip this term on the AIB Cup and Munster Senior Cup but Oliver is determined, along with his impressive coaching and management staff, that the league title will remain at Dooradoyle.

“Myself and Dara (O’Sullivan), our head coach, get on really well and we are honest with each other.

“We are progressing our panel with the help of former Ireland back rower Paul Hogan and former Garryowen scrum half Paul Murphy, and a number of senior players in our panel,” he explained.

“We’ve fantastic people managing the senior teams in Seamie McDermott and David Hayes, who know the game inside out.

“Backed up by our medical team and other peripheral support, our ethos is that we want players to reach their potential and for the club to keep progressing.”

Garryowen have already met Shannon twice this season with Mick Galwey’s men winning both games.

October’s Munster Senior Cup quarter-final at Coonagh finished in a 22-16 Shannon win, and the following month, at Dooradoyle, Shannon also won the sides’ AIB League derby 8-6.

But Garryowen are arguably the form team in the country at the moment with their ten-game winning run in the league stretching back to early December.

Oliver feels the semi-final will be ‘a real marker of how far we have come this season as Shannon have shown us twice this season how to win.’

“Our unbeaten run is all down to the panel of players. They have pushed their limits and at times have shown great character, resolve and more importantly a mental edge.”

Form aside, this is a play-off game and a play-off game between two fiercely proud local rivals. Although confidence is high in the Garryowen camp, Oliver said that ‘there is a mixture of emotions going into this match, after all it is Shannon.’

The clubs famously met at the semi-final stage in 2006 when an injury-time penalty from David Delaney steered Shannon to a dramatic 21-20 win at Dooradoyle.

In the lead-up to this weekend’s game, Oliver has been well reminded of that semi-final defeat two years ago, adding: “I have been inundated with support, advice and nostalgia since the semi-finals were settled, it just shows how much it means to Garryowen.”

Saturday’s game will be Garryowen’s seventh semi-final – their record is won three and lost three.

So how does the club keep making it through to the play-offs? “Simple,” said Oliver, “it’s down to the desire of the club and its people.”