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MacMahon: I Got So Much Out Of The AIL, I Absolutely Love It

MacMahon: I Got So Much Out Of The AIL, I Absolutely Love It

Emmet MacMahon is looking forward to his first Energia All-Ireland League season as UCD director of rugby and head coach ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Emmet MacMahon is hoping to hit the ground running as the newly-appointed director of rugby at UCD RFC. The students’ former captain has returned to Belfield after a successful two years with Terenure College.

Many within Irish Rugby rate MacMahon as one of the best young coaches in the game. He has spent the last seven years as head coach of the St. Michael’s College Senior Cup team, which has been a real conveyor belt of talent for the Leinster Academy.

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He guided St. Michael’s to Leinster Schools Senior Cup glory in 2019, contributing to the special rugby culture that is continuing to grow within the school, but now he is focused on a new challenge.

The Dubliner is no stranger to UCD, spending nearly 10 seasons there as a player. Now he will be on the touchline every week as head coach of the senior team, on top of his director of rugby role. He cannot wait to get the new Energia All-Ireland League campaign underway.

MacMahon’s young side kick off their Division 1A run with a trip to Shannon on Saturday, October 7, before hosting fierce rivals Dublin University the following Friday under the floodlights at the UCD Bowl.

“I’m really looking forward to it. I loved my time (as assistant coach) in Terenure. I was there for two seasons and it was a pretty successful period, winning a first AIL title as part of a quadruple of trophy wins last season,” he told IrishRugby.ie.

“It’s a job I probably had at the back of my mind that I might want to take at some stage. I had nearly 10 years at the school as a coach.

“I wasn’t actively seeking to move away from my role in the school because it’s something I love, but when the opportunity did come up (at UCD) it was just too big of an opportunity, too big of a challenge to turn down.

“I couldn’t say no to it, I had to jump at it. Time will tell whether or not it was the right decision, but I’m already enjoying it and can’t wait for the All-Ireland League to start.”

Bobby Byrne (pictured above with the Colours trophy after last March’s win) has certainly left some big boots to fill having been UCD’s director of rugby since 2011.

He has been a real stalwart of the club, firstly playing with them in the 1980s (and as captain in 1985). He returned in a coaching guise in the 1990s and then from the early 2000s onwards.

MacMahon and Byrne have a great relationship off the pitch, and the former is hoping he can build on the strong foundations left by his predecessor who stepped down at the end of last season.

You want to put your own stamp on things but you also want to continue to build on some of the great things Bobby has done.

“When I originally joined the club, I think we were 2A at the time, we progressed into 1A, like some of the other universities. There has been some great work done behind the scenes.

“It’s just about trying to build on that. Bobby has left the club in a great spot. It’s definitely a challenge but it’s one I’m looking forward to.”

In the modern game, coaches often take on the added responsibility of being both the director of rugby and head coach at the same time. Some can find it tricky to juggle, but it is a set-up that the new UCD boss thinks will work well in the long run.

“It has been done before and done quite successfully, Bobby did it for a few years. I think when you’re coming in as the director of rugby, it’s probably best that you’re coming in as the new head coach as well,” explained MacMahon.

“You can align a lot of the teams within the club, be it the firsts, J1s and 20As. To have the overall head coach position on top of that probably works best.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge but it’s definitely doable, and I think it will work best with the plans we’re trying to bring in. It’s the best option for us.”

Being a University team gives UCD the platform to attract some of the best young talents coming out of school, or young players who are currently involved within the Leinster Academy system.

With a number of newcomers on board, MacMahon’s charges had their first three run-outs of the new season in the Leinster Senior Cup. They lost to Clontarf (27-12) and Lansdowne (40-15) but scored seven tries to beat St. Mary’s College 45-29 at Templeville Road.

MacMahon, who has coached at Leinster underage level before, spoke about his desire to create a thriving environment which will get the best out of his young squad and also the Leinster players that are released to play for them.

“Ultimately, I think where we will end up at the end of the season will be determined by how well that core group is behind those Leinster lads, because those lads coming in will obviously add to your team, but if they’re coming into an environment that’s struggling it will be tough for everyone.

“But, if they’re coming into a team that is cohesive and playing well, it will make it more enjoyable for them but it also makes us a better team because of it.”

He talks fondly about his time at St. Michael’s College, crediting both the players and coaches around him for making him the coach he is today. It is a job he will miss as he progresses to the next chapter of his career.

The All-Ireland League is a special competition. The exciting brand of rugby and sheer competitiveness we see each week, coupled with the support of the local communities, make it a league like no other. Its importance for Irish Rugby is not lost on MacMahon.

“The games themselves are unbelievable contests. The Dublin derbies are brilliant or heading down the country to different places that bring with them challenging environments to play. You try and get wins on the road and at home.

“I got so much out of the AIL as a player, and in the last couple of seasons as a coach, I absolutely love it.”

UCD finished eighth in Division 1A, just four points above the bottom two, at the end of what was a mixed 2022/23 season. Getting back into the top half of the table and pushing for the play-offs is the clear target for ‘Collidge’.

“Every club at this time of year is aiming to finish in the top half of the table, we’ll be no different,” insisted MacMahon, who captained UCD to Fraser McMullen Cup titles in both 2011 and 2012, and was skipper for their 2015 Colours triumph.

“We’ll be hoping to be competitive enough to hopefully get into that top four, but we know it’s a tough challenge, and we know every week if we’re not on our game we’ll lose.

“That’s going to be the challenge for us, but also our aim. Come April that’s where we hope to be.”