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Semi-Final Interview: Shannon’s Ian Sherwin

Semi-Final Interview: Shannon’s Ian Sherwin

Stephen Kelly’s conversion from being an inter-county Gaelic footballer to a high quality club rugby winger has taken time. A veritable speed merchant, Kelly has scored 11 tries for Shannon in this season’s AIB League and credits the club’s assistant and backs coach Ian Sherwin with having a big hand in his development.

In a recent interview, Stephen Kelly gave an insight into the work of Ian Sherwin, a backs coach of high repute whose quiet work at Thomond Park and Coonagh has helped Shannon to success in the AIB League, AIB Cup and the Munster Senior Cup.

Kelly admitted: “I owe a lot to a lot of people at Shannon. Everyone who knows me knows that I don’t have too much of a rugby background. From that point of view, Ian Sherwin’s coaching and advice has been terrific.

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“He’s extremely knowledgeable and has vast experience in the game – I’ve learned a lot just by listening to what he tells me.”

IrishRugby.ie caught up with Sherwin this week to find out more about his input into the Shannon team and his views on Saturday’s AIB League Division One semi-final clash between Shannon and Garryowen.

IrishRugby.ie: Ian this is your third season as Shannon’s backs coach. How has the current campaign gone for you personally and what is it like to work alongside (head coach) Mick Galwey?

Ian Sherwin: It’s been a long campaign that began last July with a serious pre-season. After the schedule came out we knew we had a tough start to the league. It began with Old Belvedere followed up by three of the top four teams from last year – Garryowen, UL Bohemians and Clontarf – in successive weeks.

Immediately prior to the league, we had two cup matches, both on the road. The Munster Senior Cup against Clonakilty and Belfast Harlequins in the AIB Cup up at Deramore Park we’d been beaten twice last season!

There have been a lot of changes in personnel over the last three years and it’s very satisfying to be still in the running at this stage of the season.

It’s been great working with ‘Gaillimh’ for the last three years, we played in the same teams during the 1990s so I knew him before taking up the coaching position. We’d spend a lot of time together, especially at away games discussing options and positions in the game and I’ve learnt a lot from him.

IR: For anyone that doesn’t know, what does the position of backs coach at an AIB League club entail and how do you work together with the management team? 

IS: The management team work together for all aspects of the game and preparation. The AIB League demands as much of a coaching role as a facilitatory role with the players and it is very much an issue of allowing them make decisions for themselves.

Once we break into our units we practice a variety of situations that we think we will encounter in attack and defence for the game at the weekend. We have a number of different strategies for each situation but it’s really up to the players to decide when and where to use them.

IR: Tell me a bit about your own rugby background and how you came to take up this position with Shannon? You also work with the Munster Academy too as the academy manager?

IS: I started playing the game in Greystones at the age of five and after I left school I played with UCD for four years. The All-Ireland League was just beginning and I decided to go back to Greystones who were playing the Division Two. We spent two years there getting promoted in the second year and spent the next two years in Division One before losing out on points difference and being relegated.

The opportunity arose to attend the University of Limerick so I upped sticks and joined Shannon in 1994 and except for a brief visit home to Greystones for a year, I’ve been in Limerick since then.

I was first asked to get involved with coaching by former Shannon captain Pat Murray with UCC and I hung around there for three years before hooking up with Shannon again three years ago. They had just won back to back AIB League titles but needed someone to help out with the backs so the timing was right to move back.

Due to a variety of reasons, my work with the Munster Academy will mean that I will be stepping down from coaching Shannon at the end of this season.

IR: Has this been a challenging season for you, particularly after your Limerick rivals Garryowen won the title last season?

IS: Limerick rugby has enormous rivalry and Garryowen’s achievements last year were fantastic but it’s this sort of competition that forces you to improve so that you can attempt to emulate those achievements.

IR: What sort of coaching style do you have with Gaillimh and who else do you have working alongside in the Shannon set-up?

IS: The coaching style really reflects the personalities of the management team. Gaillimh is the head coach with the final say and his experience has a big influence on the squad. Anthony Foley has come in this season to assist Gaillimh with the preparation of the pack and he has brought a real edge to the team.

Declan O’Connor, the team secretary, ensures the players have everything they need for training and matches and the physio support from Damo, Scott and Caso has patched us up for the semi-final on Saturday.

Andrew Mac is the club PRO and is our stats man! The main man is the team manager Niall Cowhey, the calming influence on the entire squad. Things are done before you ask and he has a handle on players’ on-and-off the field activities that the CIA would be proud of! It’s very much a team effort and everyone has a vital role to play.

IR: You’ve had some good results recently, winning tight games in the AIB Cup against Galwegians and Blackrock and a big win over Greystones on the final day of the league. What can you put that form down to?

IS: It really all stems from a good start to the season. We won tough games, especially the AIB Cup game in Belfast. We led by 13 points at half-time but with two minutes to go we were losing by a point or two. Still, we managed to bounce back and scrape the win and that gave us a belief that we could grind it out.

The AIB Cup semi-final and final were always going to be close games and we tried to work on negating the opposition’s strengths. Galwegians in Galway is always a difficult game but we made less mistakes than they did.

If you allow Blackrock time and space they can run riot – as they did in scoring 31 unanswered points in the first half of their semi-final – so it was important to be disciplined (in the cup final) which stood us well in the end.

We knew that we needed a big game against Greystones in the final round of the league to ensure a home semi-final. We had the benefit of knowing that we were going to be in the play-offs regardless of the result.

But it’s always good to go into the semis on the back of a good performance and the lads played very well. There is competition for places and that’s as good an incentive for performance as anything.

IR: What approach will you take into this weekend’s game and do you feel revenge will be a factor for them as you pipped Garryowen at this stage in 2006?

IS: I don’t really think revenge is a factor. Garryowen proved how good a side they are by winning the treble last year. It’s not really about one team or the other, I think the focus will be on winning the game and getting to the final and then anything can happen!

IR: You must be pleased with some of the individual performances during the campaign – any players deserve a mention for their efforts in getting you through to the semi-finals?

To be honest, there are too many individual stand-out performances on and off the pitch that have got us to the semi-final to highlight one. It takes a team effort and to select one would be unfair. It has been a really good year for us.

IR: What are the likes of Stephen Kelly and Mossie Lawlor like to work with, and seeing some of the younger backs and forwards coming through must please you?

IS: Mossie is the consummate professional and Kelly is a quick learner. He had to work hard but spent a huge amount of time in the gym last summer and all through the season to help him this year. Having fellas like Mossie around has been a big help to him.

Shannon Under-20s won the All-Ireland League two years ago and eight of them have played regularly for the senior team since then. There are also three others who were still in school two years ago!

They’ve matured enormously and a lot of that was down to the work they put in last year and it’s great to see them coming through. I hope they hang around and continue to play their rugby in Shannon but I have a feeling one or two of them may move up a level or two.

IR: Finally Ian, just a word on the other semi-final. You’ve played both Cork Constitution and Clontarf this season. Any thoughts on who might get through there?

IS: They are two very good teams who’ve been there or thereabouts for the last few years. In this division it’s all about getting to the play-offs. After that each side is capable of beating any of the others but it’s hard to see Clontarf going to Con and getting a win as this is as strong a side to come out of Cork for a long time.