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Hamilton Takes Great Pride In Ireland Club XV’s ‘Unified Approach’

Hamilton Takes Great Pride In Ireland Club XV’s ‘Unified Approach’

Terenure College's Mark Hamilton is involved with the Ireland Club XV squad for their historic clash with Portugal 'A' in Lisbon ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

There are several key components that help create a successful team environment. The players on the pitch play a big part along with the coaching team. There are others in the backroom staff that do much of the unseen work in the background.

One of those people is the team manager. Mark Hamilton has proudly taken up that position for a second stint with the Ireland Club XV squad this season.

Sponsored by Energia, the Ireland Club international team travel to Lisbon this week to play Portugal ‘A’ at the National Stadium on Friday night (kick-off 7pm – live on www.rugbytv.pt).

Hamilton’s own playing career was unfortunately ended by a neck injury at the age of 24. He won a Leinster Schools Senior Cup title with Terenure College in 2003, before representing Leinster at Under-21 level.

When Ian ‘Moggy’ Morgan was head coach of Terenure College RFC’s first team, he encouraged Mark to come on board as team manager. He is now in his 15th season in the role with the Dublin 6W club.

He was first involved with the Ireland Club XV when they played their Scottish counterparts at Energia Park in February 2020, and is delighted to get the opportunity again four years later.

“The Irish Clubs is something I’ve seen other people be involved in over the years. Because of my injury and not being able to play anymore, being in this role became something I could aspire towards,” he told IrishRugby.ie.

“I have a great day job as Head of New Business Generation at Matheson LLP, but this was all I could target in a rugby sense. I originally interviewed for the role back in the 2019/20 season. I did it with Colin McEntee and Kevin Beggs.

“I can’t thank them enough for getting me involved in the first instant. I was delighted to hear that it was back up and running this year. All of these lads are joining up with a unified approach to representing their country.

“They don’t care what level it is at – they are going to be standing in front of their friends and family, singing the national anthem. They should be extremely proud of themselves.”

During the build-up to the game, Ireland Club XV head coach Sean Skehan has been working with a 37-strong training squad, made up of players representing 13 clubs from across the Energia All-Ireland League Men’s Divisions.

The extended squad had two training camps at the IRFU High Performance Centre, with a final camp at the Blanchardstown venue last weekend to finetune preparations for the eagerly-awaited encounter with international opposition.

Skehan, who memorably coached Terenure to All-Ireland-League Division 1A and Bateman Cup glory last season, has a brilliant coaching ticket behind him in the Ireland Club XV set-up.

UCD director of rugby and head coach, Emmet MacMahon, is the forwards coach, the experienced John Staunton is looking after the scrum, with Ballynahinch boss Adam Craig in charge of the backs. They have also got the legendary Paddy ‘Rala’ O’Reilly as baggage master.

Team manager Hamilton says it is an exciting prospect for all involved, explaining: “It’s a bizarre scenario to try and get a team to mould on and off the field, in such a short space of time, to try and achieve success against Portugal.

“This is historic, it’s the first time the Irish Clubs have faced a Portuguese outfit. This isn’t just any Portuguese team, they’re Portugal ‘A’. These guys they are playing against are effectively guys in the mix for the Portugal senior team.

“The job of the coaches and management is to help the lads get ready for that challenge. This is a new group, my job is to act as a buffer between these players and liaise with what they and the coaches might need.”

A match week, including the game day, is often a busy period for a team manager, but some might still ask, what does a team manager do?

It is essentially being the organiser. It is all about arranging the logistics, from pitch availability, to equipment needed for training, dealing with the catering companies for post-match food, while clearly communicating all schedules to both players and coaches alike. They do all this and much more.

Hamilton insists that his job is to make everything run as smoothly as possible on the day, leaving the coaches and players to focus on the match and playing rugby for their country, in this instance.

This is all extremely important to get right. To make sure the on-field element runs as seamlessly as possible, and that in turn will give the team the best chance to be successful on the pitch.

“You’re there to support the coaches and players in every need that they have. That’s the logistics side of things. The other half of it, which I see a huge value in, is the player relations side of it.

“The manager acts as a go-between, between players and coaches. I see it as the glue between it all. It’s important to get to know your coaches and players on a personal level, and how we can help them get to where they want to get to both on and off the field.”

What makes the Energia All-Ireland League so special is its links with the community and how it promotes rugby in the local areas. Hamiliton has a long affiliation with Terenure College RFC.

They offered him support and a new path within rugby during his hour of need, after receiving the crushing news that he would need to retire from playing the game.

“Outside of my college life, it was all I knew. It was what I was best at, it was my social life. Let’s just say, Terenure Rugby Club showed up for me at a time when I really needed it,” he admitted.

“Terenure achieved something unbelievable last year but it wasn’t just down to the lads on the pitch. It was down to everybody who went before them.

“From the groundsmen, to the bar staff, the other teams in the club, current and former coaches. All of that formed a puzzle that achieved the ultimate success.

“If I didn’t have the Terenure community during the time of my injury, I don’t know what I would have done.

“When something you love is plucked away from you, there is always the potential of your mental health being drastically impacted. But that experience, along with others in my life, has taught me how to help other players who might have had mental health issues over the years.”

Terenure cleaned up last season, collecting all the silverware they could at senior level. Their Leinster Senior League and Cup title wins were followed by maiden Bateman Cup and All-Ireland League 1A crowns.

Skehan’s charges avenged their 2022 All-Ireland League final defeat by beating Clontarf 50-24 at the Aviva Stadium last May. It was an unforgettable occasion for all involved, and Hamilton made sure to savour it all with his club-mates and his family.

“Those five minutes before the end of the game were just filled with joy. I went over to Sean Skehan straight away at the final whistle. It was an unbelievable moment.

“The best memory I have from that day is a picture that I have plastered all over my house. It’s of my son, my little fella Harry Hamiliton, sitting in the trophy (pictured above). You never know if anything like that will happen again,” he added.