Buccaneers head coach Eddie O’Sullivan speaking at the club’s season launch last week. Photos: Paul Molloy.

Buccs return 'closing a circle' for O'Sullivan

Eddie O’Sullivan has insisted that it was “an easy decision” to return for a second stint as Buccaneers coach.

The appointment of the former Ireland supremo last June attracted considerable attention and it was understandably regarded as a major coup by the club.

Buccaneers will play their first home fixture of their All-Ireland League Division 1B campaign against Old Wesley this Saturday (2.30pm), having narrowly lost away to City of Armagh in their opener last weekend.

Speaking at the Buccaneers season launch last week, O’Sullivan said there were “lots of reasons” that attracted him back to the Athlone club.

“One is that I love coaching. I really enjoy coaching, that’s what I get the greatest kick out of. Secondly, Buccaneers are literally half an hour from where I live, so that’s another advantage,” said the Galway-based O’Sullivan.

“The club itself is important to me. This is where I had my first AIL experience at a high level. It went very well for me and it kept me on the map in Ireland when I was in America in the late ‘90s.

“It’s 25 years ago that I started with the Buccs, and 22 since I left. It’s kind of closing a circle coming back to Buccaneers again. I have a great affinity with the club.

“I think the facilities are top drawer. We didn’t have those facilities when I was here before. I think the club is run by a core of very strong Buccaneers people.

“The infrastructure is miles away from what I was here 25 years ago. But the integral structure of the club hasn’t changed; it’s still driven by Athlone people, and by a lot of people that were here 25 years ago, though of course there are some new faces. The club is rooted in the neighbourhood.

“A lot of things like that came into play. For me it was an easy decision. It was a chance to coach at a great club with a good bunch of players so why not do it?” he continued.

From his previous spell with the club, one thing that really stood out for O’Sullivan was the level of support Buccaneers enjoyed at that time.

“The support was extraordinary. We won some games in Division 1 that I don’t think we would have won without the crowd. The shed was so vocal. You could feel the energy coming on to the field from the supporters,” he recalled.

“It was fantastic that Buccaneers were able to announce themselves at the top level by beating teams like Garryowen and Lansdowne. Those were things that put down a marker. The whole atmosphere in the club at that time was extraordinary. There was a great bunch of players and everyone has fond memories of that time.

“Things change and I know Buccaneers have had some ups and downs. But they never panicked as a club and always kept working in the right direction.”

One significant change from those days is the way the provinces took off as professional rugby entities, and O’Sullivan admitted that the club game has suffered “on a number of fronts”.

“Back in the late ‘90s, the All-Ireland League was really the only show in town,” said O’Sullivan, adding that the increased profile of the four provincial teams “sucked all the energy out of the club game”.

“I’ve always been a supporter of the club game. There has been an ongoing battle between the clubs and the IRFU in terms of accessibility to young players,” said O’Sullivan.

“I think Connacht, from taking to people like Eric Elwood, are doing the right thing. They have said: ‘if we don’t need the players, you’re going to get them’.

“You would love to encourage more people who might support Connacht or Leinster to take a trip to a club match. It’s great entertainment and very good rugby. It’s not the bright lights of professional rugby, but it’s a great day’s entertainment.

“The clubs do all the groundwork from U20s down to mini rugby. The IRFU are beginning to realise that without the clubs, they wouldn’t have a game. A club like Buccaneers is the heart and soul of rugby in the Midlands,” continued the Cork native.

The presence of O’Sullivan might stir more interest in Buccaneers this season, but he knows that the team has to produce performances in order to attract supporters.

“I don’t want people to come to Buccaneers to see me; I want them to come and see the team. But I’d like to put my stamp on this team as I would with any team,” he said.

“I think if we play the type of rugby that we want to play and deliver performances, I think people will come and watch it. But that will only happen if the team delivers, or we deliver as a group, to give people a reason to come back. I’d be hopeful about that but it won’t happen overnight.

“It’s a tough business even though it’s an amateur game. There are a lot of good teams in Division 1B.”

O’Sullivan expressed gratitude to his backroom team for making things easier for him in his new role.

“Having people like Davy (Henshaw), Paul (Byrne) and Benny (Gilligan) who are rooted in the club and understand the workings of the club, that has been hugely beneficial. I had to go away for a few weeks during the Connacht Senior League and there was no issue. The lads just stepped in and it was seamless. They know the players better than I do as I’m still getting to know the players,” he said.

“The goal for us is this season is to stay in Division 1B. Anything more than that would be bonus territory. “We need to get good results at home and hopefully pick up stuff away, whether it is a bonus point or whatever, any wins away would be huge.”

With last season’s Buccs captain Evan Galvin having emigrated, O’Sullivan is pleased to have the vastly experienced Martin Staunton take on the captaincy.

“Martin is such a solid character and hugely respected in the team. He’s a great communicator and somebody that people listen to when he talks. He’s a very sensible guy and doesn’t panic and has huge experience. In the heat of battle, you want someone like that who will calm everyone down,” said O’Sullivan.

“I didn’t appoint him; he was appointed by the senior players, but it was a good decision and I was delighted that they picked him,” he added.

With O’Sullivan knowing Davy Henshaw well from his time with Buccaneers years ago, naturally he has enjoyed observing the sensational impact his nephew Robbie has made in rugby.

“Most clubs want to produce a provincial player. Robbie is a British & Irish Lion and an iconic player for Ireland. His rise was meteoric but he stayed up there while some fellas can fluctuate. Robbie has been incredibly consistent for Ireland any time he has been fit to play, he has been outstanding. It’s phenomenal for Buccaneers to have produced a world famous player in Robbie Henshaw,” added O’Sullivan.