Tag Archives: Alan Cotter

The Exiled Irish: The Exiles


London Irish was set up as a “home away from home” for the Irish in London. (c) London Irish RFC.

London Irish Rugby Football Club was founded in 1898 with the intention of providing “a welcoming home and hospitable meeting place for all Irish people” in the English capital city. Dubliner and Irish international Louis Magee was the catalyst in putting the club on the map in those early days. Over the following 115 years, the number of Irish-qualified players on the Exiles’ cards has varied, although the likes of Conor O’Shea, David Humphreys, Mark McCall and Niall Woods were part of a big group there in the first few years of professional rugby.

In 2008, Keith Wood called for London Irish to become a fifth Irish province, under the IRFU’s control. He wanted another option for players who were “unable to establish themselves in Ireland.” That kind of wholesale takeover was never realistic, but the idea wasn’t completely nonsensical. While the RFU would never  have allow one of their clubs to directly improve a rival nation, the potential increase in Premiership viewers based in Ireland was never fully considered.

The current day London Irish isn’t quite “a home away from home” for our professional rugby players, but there are signs of that changing. This season, they’ve fielded 7 Irish players in various competitions. 3 of those will still be at the club next season, while 2 more Irish have signed on. It’s positive to see, and hopefully a signal that London Irish are going back to their roots.


Ian Humphreys

Alex Lewington

Humphreys (tackling) in action against Leicester in the LV= Cup. (c) Graham Wilson.

When Paddy Jackson was installed as first-choice outhalf for Ulster ahead of last season’s H Cup semi-final, Humphrey’s mind was made up. The 30-year-old signed for Irish in order to secure first-team rugby. Capped for Ireland at U19, U21, A and 7s levels, Humphreys never managed to earn full international honours despite his talent. This season, the outhalf has started all but 3 of London Irish’s Premiership games, as well as 3 in the Amlin CC and 2 in the LV= Cup.

Irish‘s form hasn’t been good. Despite talking about a top 6 finish at the beginning of the season, Brian Smith’s side have won only 7 games in the Premiership, leaving them 9th with 1 fixture left. They flirted with relegation for a while, before London Welsh’s 5-point punishment decided the issue. Humphreys has scored 142 points, including 1 try. Place-kicking duties have been rotated between himself, Tom Homer and Steve Shingler. The Exiles have already spoken about their ambitions for next season, and Humphreys will hope to play a central role.

Player Profile: Ian Humphreys     Twitter: @iHumph


Tomas O’Leary


O’Leary playing against Ulster during his time with Munster. (c) Liam Coughlan.

Similarly to iHumph, O’Leary left his home province after a young pretender had usurped him. In this case, Conor Murray’s rapid rise had left O’Leary as back-up at Munster and looking for a move away. Initially, it looked as though the Corkonian would be joining Perpignan, before Irish stepped in. O’Leary had a great start at the English club, despite their poor form. The scrumhalf quickly became a key man and a leader, starting all 9 of the Exiles‘ games up until the 28th of October, when he came off injured against ‘Quins.

Life at London Irish was proving very agreeable to O’Leary and he even had hopes of an international recall. The main thing was that he was “happy to be back playing regular rugby.” His interview with Gerry Thornley in the Irish Times on the 27th of October proved to be something of a curse.
The next day, he aggravated a “pre-existing lower back injury”, and eventually had surgery in December, ending his season. It’s obviously a worrying injury, but O’Leary is expected back fully fit for next season. Still only 29, he’ll hope to pick up where he left off.

Player Profile: Tomas O’Leary     Twitter: @Tomas_OLeary


Brian Blaney

Behind Terenure..there's Brian Blaney

Blaney (left) on a advert for the AIB League in 2007! (c) Terenure RFC.

Ex-Leinster hooker Blaney joined Irish in 2010, having spent 6 seasons with Leinster. Capped at Ireland Schools and A levels, he picked up a Magners League medal in ’07/08. The peak of his playing time at Leinster was the ’05/06 season, when Blaney made 15 starts, including 6 in the Heineken Cup. After leaving Leinster at the end of the ’08/09 campaign, it looked as though his career as a professional rugby player might be over. He spent the following season with Terenure RFC as player/strength & conditioning coach.

In May 2010, London Irish announced that they’d signed Blaney to provide depth in the hooker position. Unfortunately, over the past 3 seasons appearances have been rare for Blaney, totaling 23. With Scottish international Scott Lawson and England-capped David Paice also on the books at Irish, competition has been fierce. Blaney left the club last summer, before injury problems meant the Exiles asked him to return. 5 starts over the course of the year followed. Last month, player and club parted ways for good. At 31, but with little front-line rugby in the last 3 seasons, the hooker certainly has more to offer elsewhere.

Player Profile: Brian Blaney


Conor Gaston

22-year-old wing/fullback Gaston broke through at Ulster during the 2010/11 season, making his debut against the Dragons in the Magners League. He made 3 more appearances that season, impressing with his powerful running game. The following season, his chances were limited to just one start against Leinster, and a sub appearance against the Dragons. With Bowe, Payne, Gilroy and Trimble all well ahead of him, Gaston decided to take up the offer of a place in London Irish’s Academy at the start of this season.

The 95kg outside back got off to a great start with the Exiles, starring as his new club won the JP Morgan Premiership 7s Series. His evasiveness, pace and work-rate were all evident, making a good first impression. Since then, Gaston has mainly been involved with Irish’s A team, although he made his first senior start on the wing in the LV= Cup last December. He also racked up 4 sub appearances in the Amlin CC group stages. Interestingly, Gaston looks to be on his way out of the club already, although his next destination is unclear.

Player Profile: Conor Gaston     Twitter: @ConorGaston15


James Sandford, John Ryan, Alan Cotter,

  Eamonn Sheridan & Jamie Hagan

Ulster-bred lock Sandford is in his 2nd season with London Irish. He was featured in last year’s Exiled Irish Youth XV, so click the link to learn about his background. This season he’s had just 2 starts, both coming in the Amlin CC. He’s had a couple of injuries this season, but is contracted until 2014.

Munster prop Ryan joined Irish on a loan spell last October as injury cover, making 2 lengthy sub appearances in the Premiership. When Ryan returned to Munster, tight head Cotter went in the opposite direction, making 4 appearances off the bench over the next month or so, before a brief stint at Bath. While they were both short-term moves, it was positive to see the Exiles look to Ireland for cover, and both young props got some playing experience.

23-year-old centre Sheridan has signed for Irish ahead of next season, joining after a year with Rotherham Titans in the Championship. The Ireland U18 and U20 international had an impressive season in Rotherham, starting 19 games and scoring 6 tries. Half of those appearances came on the wing, but at 6’4″ and 108kg, his future is certainly in the centre. A great prospect, and one to follow closely.

Hagan joins next season on a 3-year deal, moving from Leinster. The 26-year-old Wolfhounds-capped tight head will relish the chance of first-team rugby after 2 frustrating years at Leinster. He’ll surely be watched closely by the likes of Joe Schmidt and the provincial coaches.


Photos: Liam Coughlan, Graham Wilson.

Munster Squad Update

Johne Murphy finds gap copy

Johne Murphy is amongst those to have signed new deals at Munster this week. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks at Munster with the province working on finalising their squad for next season. Today, Johne Murphy, Duncan Williams and John Ryan confirmed new two-year deals while Marcus Horan and Sean Scanlon penned one-year extensions to their contracts.

Earlier in the week, it was confirmed that Donnacha Ryan, Niall Ronan, Denis Hurley, Billy Holland and Tommy O’Donnell had all agreed to new two-year deals. Meanwhile, Academy players JJ Hanrahan (centre), Dave O’Callaghan (flanker), Luke O’Dea (wing), Cathal Sheridan (scrumhalf) and Alan Cotter (prop) will all move onto Development contracts next season. A Development contract means that the players will be part of the senior squad full-time, just on cheaper wages than a full contract!

O’Callaghan and O’Dea will be familiar to Munster fans, having both impressed for the senior side in fleeting appearances this season. 19-year-old Hanrahan is a player of great potential. Part of the Ireland U20s side playing for a Grand Slam tonight, he is a creative, playmaking 10/12 who competes with confidence and aggression. The Kerry man managed to stand out for the U20s last year too, despite only being 18 at the time.

Cathal Sheridan ahead of a Munster 'A' match. (c) Dearbhla Sheridan.

Scrumhalf Sheridan is a teammate of Hanrahan’s at UL Bohs and is more than ready for the step-up to senior rugby with Munster. Physical and intelligent, the Sligo native would benefit from Tomas O’Leary and Peter Stringer moving on at the end of the season. Sheridan played his underage rugby with Connacht before a move to Limerick allowed him to secure a place in the Munster Academy. The 23-year-old deserves exposure sooner rather than later.

Young Munster prop Alan Cotter is 25, and earned his break with Munster on the back of his form in the AIL over the last few seasons. A regular member of the B&I Cup side, Cotter is a big unit at well over 17 stone. With BJ Botha eventually set to move on from Munster, the management have recognised the need for strength in depth at tighthead and will hope Cotter can step up to the mark.

Munster have made one further addition to next season’s squad in the shape of flanker Sean Dougall. The 22 year-old will join from English Championship side Rotherham Titans, where he is currently involved in promotion play-offs. Dougall has represented Ireland at U18 and U19 (same year as Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony) level. Once with the Ulster Academy, Dougall moved to England in 2007 to join Leeds Carnegie, also of the Championship.

Dougall keeps an eye on the ball at scrum time for the Titans. (c) Neil Tunney.

He subsequently spent two years out injured before a trial at Rotherham earned him a shot at reviving his career. Since joining the Titans in 2010, he has excelled at openside, even captaining the side this season with regular skipper Sam Dickinson injured. Dougall has played against Munster ‘A’ in the B&I Cup and may have made a lasting impression then. Not too much else is known about the back-row. Having only signed him to a one-year contract, Munster don’t have too much to lose with this deal.

Watch Dougall on Sky Sports 2 this Sunday at 12, when Rotherham take on Leeds in the Championship play-offs. Follow Dougall on Twitter at @seandougall.

*Have you seen any of these young players in action? How do you rate their chances of breaking into the Munster first-team? Comment below with any insight or opinions on all the contractual goings-on at Munster and the new additions to the senior squad.


Photos courtesy: Ivan O’Riordan, Neil Tunney, Dearbhla Sheridan.