Before he jets off for a new challenge with the Miami Sharks, Shane O’Leary is aiming to sign off on his stint back in the Energia All-Ireland League as a Bateman Cup champion.
The 30-year-old Canadian international returned to Young Munster during the summer to continue playing during the North American off-season.
He spent the 2023 Major League Rugby campaign with the Toronto Arrows where he finished the season strongly, making 11 appearances for the Canadian outfit having come back from a long-term injury.
He was keen to continue building on that form, deciding to return to Young Munster, the club that gave him his All-Ireland League debut back in 2011 against Old Belvedere. After some phone calls with head coach Ger Slattery, the decision was made to return for the few months.
O’Leary is enjoying his rugby back at Tom Clifford Park, primarily playing in the out-half position because of the unavailability of Munster’s Tony Butler.
“I was really excited to go back there, I knew a lot of people there already,” he told IrishRugby.ie, speaking ahead of Saturday’s Energia Bateman Cup final against Terenure College (kick-off 2.30pm – live on Irish Rugby TV).
“It’s a real family club and I’ve always felt really at home any time I’ve played there. There are some familiar faces there, mixed with new ones, but the family ethos stays the same.
“Tony (Butler) has been involved with Munster this season a good bit due to injuries. He’s done really well, so I’ve ended up playing a lot at 10.
“I feel most comfortable there, it’s where I’ve played most of my career. It took us a while to get going. I missed some of pre-season, some new lads came in, and the Academy lads are in and out, but now we’ve started to click.
“We’ve won four on the bounce (in the league), we’re going really well. There’s excitement around the Bateman Cup final, you don’t always get the chance to be in an All-Ireland final, be it senior or junior level. It’s always special.”
Young Munster are a special community club whose fans travel far and wide to support their beloved team. The last time they won a national title was back in 1993 when they were famously crowned AIL champions after beating St. Mary’s College at Lansdowne Road.
That history-making team were in attendance for the Cookies’ impressive comeback victory over Cork Constitution before Christmas. O’Leary hopes they can draw inspiration from that triumph.
“The class of ’93 watched our last game against Cork Con. It gave us a boost to have them there. Our backs were up against the wall at half-time but we managed to turn it around. That winning group brings such a buzz with them.
To potentially win an All-Ireland competition, to go down as the 2024 Bateman Cup winners, it’s something nobody can take away from the group if we achieve it.
“From a personal level, not everyone wins trophies or medals throughout their career, it’s hard to do. Finals don’t come around often, so you’re hungry to go on and win when you’re in one.
“They’re a great bunch of guys. It’s a great club who have always been so good to me, so it would be great to do it.”
Born in Cork, growing up in Tipperary, O’Leary played for Connacht in a well-travelled career that seen him take on adventures in France with Grenoble and Rouen, some time in England with Ealing Trailfinders and Nottingham, before most recently playing for MLR side Toronto.
It has not always been the conventional or sometimes glamorous path that the lucky few in professional rugby get to experience, but it has been a journey that has made O’Leary the person he is today.
“My own personal development from the game of rugby has been massive,” he admitted. “I’m a different guy to when I started.
“I was always a shy kid. I went into myself on the pitch at times. I was quiet in social settings. Rugby has helped me build confidence, from having to move to different countries, mixing with new groups of lads in different clubs.
“It’s been huge for my own personal development. The game has given me so much, I just love it. I’ve had the opportunity to go all over the world. I represented Canada at a Rugby World Cup.
“It hasn’t always been easy. I dreamed of playing for Munster and Ireland. That obviously didn’t happen, but I wouldn’t change my career. It has helped shape me into the person I am.”
O’Leary qualifies to play for Canada through his mother Delia, who was born in New Brunswick. He made his Test debut against Georgia in June 2017, most notably playing at the Rugby World Cup just over two years later.
He is hoping some big performances will potentially lead to him adding to his 14 caps, highlighting that ‘one of my biggest goals in the backend of my career is to represent Canada again’.
“I’d love to get that opportunity if it presents itself. I need to take responsibility for my own performances, push to have a big year in the MLR and hopefully put my hand up for selection in the summer.”
His younger sister, Maeve Óg, is one of the brightest young talents in Irish Women’s rugby. She already has a handful of caps, winning her fifth against Kazakhstan during the WXV3 tournament. The siblings often bounce ideas off each other while offering both moral and professional support.
“It’s cool to see Maeve Óg playing international rugby. Like that, she is used to the ups and downs of professional rugby (now as a contracted player) and everything that comes with it.
“We’re incredibly proud of her. I made sure I flew home when she made her international debut (against the USA in November 2021).
“It’s nice to be able to bounce off her, we’re in the same job. It’s great to run ideas past each other and just get a different perspective on things,” he added.