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Thursday 21 September 2017

Fogarty has Blues vision

Tipp native embracing new life coaching Leinster's future

JOHN FOGARTY is not built to look back. Having come through a challenging period in his life involving a transition from the playing side of things to whatever the future might hold, the Tipperary man was determined to dig his teeth into something new, yet familiar.

Ten years of professional rugby had taught him life lessons including a myriad of experiences and knowledge which he wanted to share with others. Amiable, affable and hugely popular; coaching, it seemed, was set to be his most obvious route.

When the telephone rang late last year, it was perfect timing for an ideal role.

Only a year previously, the former Munster, Connacht and Leinster hooker announced his premature retirement from the game because of concussion and in the ensuing months he returned to college to complete a Masters in Sports Management in UCD as he made plans for the future.

As an Elite Player Development Officer (EPDO) alongside another former Leinster favourite, Girvan Dempsey, and Wayne Mitchell - under Academy Manager Colin McEntee - Fogarty and his colleagues are charged with nurturing and facilitating the swift passage up the ranks by club and schools players into the Academy system.

He picks up the story. "To get the chance to impart some of the knowledge that I have gained over the course of my career to young players is a dream come true, if I'm honest.

"The EPDO role is a resource for clubs and schools to assist with specialist areas of coaching. So, for me, that might involve doing scrum, lineout or general forward play to supplement the various club and schools coaches who are doing such a fantastic job with the players.

"To have the chance to work with youngsters is great. For starters they're energetic and enthusiastic. And they listen as well, which is always a bonus!

"Players who are coming into the sub-Academy and who might progress through to the Academy are like sponges for information; constantly asking questions and looking for the smallest percentages that will improve them as players. As a coach, that's a really satisfying environment to work in.

"For me then, to work alongside the likes of Joe (Schmidt), Jono (Gibbes), Feeky (Greg Feek) and all of the other coaches and backroom team is a real thrill because they all set high standards and are constantly aiming to improve.



Talented

"I feel very lucky to get to work in a professional set-up that I'm already familiar with, with a talented crop of youngsters who are hungry and driven to succeed."

Having enjoyed a successful career which culminated in playing a role in the province's 2009 Heineken Cup triumph, can anything replicate the thrill of playing?

"Not really," he offers thoughtfully. "But there are certainly areas which cross over between the playing and coaching sides of things. You do miss the big match days in the RDS and you even miss the pressure and the expectation because as a professional rugby player you live your life on edge almost.

"In saying that, though, there's still a healthy pressure to make sure you keep on performing because of the high standards that are on everyone here in the organisation.

"It's only since I took up the post in mid-November that I have really gotten my head around the work that's going on at grassroots level. We have lots of development programmes and summer camps coming up over the coming months to plan ahead for, where the focus is to try and help make Leinster as successful as possible in every strand of the game."

Away from the game, there was a further blessing for John and his wife, Sinead, when they welcomed their second daughter Emily a little under five weeks ago.

"Life," the 34-year-old says with a smile, "just couldn't be better."

Prior to his full-time appointment, Fogarty assumed assistant coaching duties for the Leinster Under-20s and he also relished taking over the management of the province's 'A' team -- following Mick Kearney's elevation to the Ireland senior side -- for the visit of Pontypridd in the quarter-finals of the British & Irish Cup last weekend.



Positive

It was, he says, another positive eye-opener. "Days like last Sunday are special ones to be a part of because nothing beats the thrill of knockout rugby, when everything hinges on those 80 minutes.

"When you're involved in coaching, a lot of your week is spent planning and preparing for technical sessions, analysis, etc. But to be a part of that buzz on game days is special.

"It's very important for me to try and help improve Leinster because they're my team and they always will be. Now that might seem strange for a Tipp man, who was educated in Rockwell College and played for two other provinces, to admit but the most successful period of my career was when I wore the blue jersey.

"I was back home recently and one of the lads asked me now that I had retired, who would I be supporting. 'Leinster, of course,' I said and I think he was quite taken aback.

"I'm going to do my best to try and make a positive impact in this new chapter in my life."

Forward planning and forward thinking. A new and exciting chapter of the Fogarty story is under way.

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