What I love the most about rugby is the inclusion. There aren’t many games that can be played and enjoyed by every shape and size – be it tall or short, stocky or skinny. It’s also a game that can be enjoyed as a viewer, no matter how much you know about the game. Of course, it helps to know what is happening – but I remember early on being impressed with the quick passing movements and patterns without knowing too much about the laws of the game. With more understanding, I find myself enjoying other aspects of the game too – some of the so-called ‘dark arts’.
My name is Conor O’Leary, and I’m a full-stack software engineer. I chose my job because I’ve always had an interest in using my logic and problem-solving in puzzles (that, and a desire to stay out of the accounting world). I was born in raised in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, but I’ve had stops in Galway and New York for work. Hopefully, there will be many more stops in the future too.
Sport is a big part of my life outside of work, and it always has been. When I was younger, I was obsessed with all things soccer and wouldn’t give rugby the time of day. I went to secondary school at a big rugby school, and it eventually won me over. The first game I went to was Munster’s semi-final victory over Ulster in the inaugural Celtic League in 2002 – I had no idea what was going on throughout that game and the subsequent years. My interest in the game gradually grew, especially as our school got better at competing in the Schools Cup. I remember the Champions League final in 2008 when the soccer team I had supported, Manchester United, were facing Chelsea. I was in the room when the game was on, but I just wasn’t interested in it anymore. That was the turning point and rugby became my main sport from then.
I like to watch an open and free-flowing game, and I would admire players who showcase their intelligence to gain an advantage. I think TJ Perenara, the Hurricanes and New Zealand scrumhalf, is probably the player I most admire at the moment. It’s a combination of his playing style, how tricky an opponent he is, and how he looks to gain any legal advantage through his intelligence. It also helps that, off the field, he seems like an outstanding individual and is very outspokenly in favour of inclusion for all.
Resulting from my love of rugby, I have worked at Connacht Rugby and balls.ie. I had a lot of fun at Connacht Rugby – it was my first job out of college and it was a mix of everything. Officially, I held the title of “Domestic Website Co-Ordinator and Administration Assistant”. I learned HTML and CSS to help redesign the website, and I re-organised everything on site. I also travelled to club and school games across the province, taking photos and publishing articles on rugby across the amateur community in the province. I also volunteered whenever a coach needed an extra body whenever a player needed/wanted extra coaching.
Balls.ie came about after I finished my contract with Connacht Rugby. I wasn’t ready to return to engineering, and I wanted to see how far I could go in sports journalism. It started out solely writing articles. Some of them were analysis articles, some involved interviews, and some were more light-hearted. It evolved into helping to manage the social media of the site, delegating some stories to some of the newer writers whilst also writing my own. It was an interesting time, and I accomplished some things that I’ll always be proud of. After two years with balls.ie, my enthusiasm for sport was waning and I knew I wanted to get back into engineering.
I don’t remember if I had left balls.ie at this stage, but I had been writing as ballhandlinghooker (@BHHooker) for a while on all things rugby. It was through Twitter that I started interacting with Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport). We were both interested in the U-20 competitions, particularly seeing what players in these competitions could make the leap to professional rugby (Alex has a fantastic grasp of the underage rugby scene in England). Eventually, the idea of working together to provide a U-20 rugby blog began to interest us.
The main objective of U20 Rugby was to provide the only U20 rugby coverage in the world. The blog is there to help people become familiar with some names of future stars – when people go down the pub with friends, they can then say: “That James Ryan guy is good, watch out for him”. It also helps us to look back on players we’ve liked in the past and see why we were right or wrong. When I first started interacting with Alex in early 2013, he was telling about this English lock that was going to be really good – Maro Itoje. He was championing Itoje as a future British & Irish Lion. At that time, I was hearing about this kid from my old school who was meant to be great – James Ryan – so we were having early discussions about which one of them would be better and claim the Lions captaincy.
The two most well-received articles I do are squad breakdown previews for Ireland – mentioning as many of the players in the squad as I can, how they play, who could start, what their strengths are, and what they may need to work on in the future. The other articles that go well are the team of the tournaments, and those are always fun to look back on in a few years.
U20 Rugby started with Alex and me – since then, Alex has moved on to bigger, better, and paid gigs. There have been some other contributors from South Africa, Benedict Chanakira, and New Zealand (Chase Sport) that have been fantastic too. I’m realistic because I know I can’t know everybody, so I’d love to have more people from other places showcase their work and knowledge.
My favourite moment involving rugby at U20s level came whilst working for balls.ie. A player, Kelvin Brown, had impressed me through the year in 2016, when Ireland U20s reached their first World Cup final. He contacted me because I had written favourably about him through the campaign. Kelvin was a substitute on that team behind Leinster’s Max Deegan, Connacht’s Cillian Gallagher, and Ulster’s Greg Jones. I thought that every time Kelvin came on, he had positive impacts on the game and stood out. Kelvin had been unfortunately let go from the Munster sub-academy. We had a fascinating 90-minute interview, which led to a 3,000-word article explaining his situation and highlighting the talent that doesn’t make it to the pro ranks in Ireland. A few weeks after the interview, Kelvin told me that the article had been shared with a club in France, and he signed a deal to join Aurillac in the PRO D2. It was no more than he deserved.
I’d love to be able to dedicate more time to U20 Rugby. This year’s U20 World Cup is in June, so that’ll be the busiest time of the year. Hopefully, my process for identifying talent improves, and I’d love to go to more games and be more prepared each year. From a contributor point of view, it would be great to get others to share their talents too.
I think my experiences working with u20 Rugby have been a benefit to my tech career. Working on it gives me peace and satisfies my itch to write without killing my desire for sport the way working as a full-time journalist did. It also serves as an easy test case for future web development and provides good project management experience too.
My advice to anyone looking to write sports blogs is that nothing will happen unless you try. Dip your toe in, acknowledge that your first attempt won’t be good and that you will learn. And if you are writing about rugby, feel free to contact me and I can offer whatever advice I can.
I think it’s very important to share the creative and sporting passions of technologists. For me, the tech industry can be quite intimidating. I have had experiences where it feels like the only people doing what I’m doing have been focused on this one aspect of their lives 24/7 for their entire lives. Promoting other interests and passions in tech can help remove some of that stereotyping, and could encourage some on the fence to get involved in the industry.
The U20 World Championships are on from the 4th to the 22nd of June 2019. To see some more of Conor’s blog during the Championships, be sure to check the following link: