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From Emyvale to International Rugby

10 December 2005
Currently one of Ulster’s most stylish and exciting young rugby wing three-quarters and an Irish International as well ... that’s our Monaghan GAA man Tommy Bowe.

Not alone is he developing into one of the northern provinces finest and most enterprising attackers, he is also one of Ireland’s most promising young rugby starts of the future and has already been capped on a number of occasions for his country. He can truthfully be described as one of the most exciting prospects to arrive on the Irish rugby scene in decades. By Seamus McCluskey.

In October 2004, when Irish rugby coach Eddie O’Sullivan announced his thirty man selection for then then up and coming three-games Autumn International series against South Africa, USA and Argentina, at Landsdowne Road, he surprised a lot of people when he included in his squad a popular young Co Monaghan man, Tommy Bowe, a former Emyvale GFC minor and Under 21 gaelic player. The news was received with delight throughout the county, but particularly in his native Emyvale where Tommy is probably one of the most popular and most talented young athletes ever to come out of that north Monaghan village.

’I am totally stunned’ was Tommy’s own comment when he first received news of his selection on Tuesday 26th October of last year, but quite frankly, very few others were really surprised as the then 20-years old youngster from ’Woodview’ Emyvale had been showing such prominence in rugby circles over the previous two years that his eventual selection on the Irish team was not a matter of ’if’ but ’when’. Ulster coach, Mark McCall, was certainly not in the least surprised at the selection and confirmed his confidence in the selection by adding ’Tommy has raw pace and unbelievable ability.’

Surprisingly,Tommy Bowe is not the first Monaghan man to be capped for Ireland in rugby. That signal honour must go to the legendary James Cecil Parke from Clones, who was capped for Ireland on no less than twenty occasions between 1904 and 1909 and who had the honour of captaining the Irish international team in the 1907-1908 season. By a unique coincidence, JC Parke also had very strong Emyvale connections as his mother was a Mary Pringle from Ballinahone, a town-land between the villages of Emyvale and Mullan.

With many people have found surprisingly, however, is that Tommy Bowe began his career as a Gaelic footballer with his native Emyvale. Educated at Edenmore NS, one of the local Donagh parish primary schools, he played underage football from under 10 right up through the grades to minor and eventually under-21 ranks, just over two years ago, when he was one of the youngest members of the Emyvale squad of that period. His superb athletic talents were obvious from an early age and, as well as learning the skills of Gaelic Football, under team manager Genie McKenna, he was also tops in sprinting. Under the guidance of Noel Kennedy of Glaslough, he showed great promise with the local Glaslough Harriers AC and one of his earliest treasures was an under 12 medal which he won for sprints at the Community Games in Mosney in 1995.

Tommy Bowe’s talents were quickly recognised by the Monaghan GAA people and he was picked for the county U16 team and later graduated to the minor team while still only sixteen, but, by then, his rugby skills were surfacing and it was obvious that his GAA career was more or less coming to an end. His dad, Paul Bowe, was an active member of the Monaghan town rugby club and son Tommy was soon figuring for the Monaghans club’s under-age teams. One of his team-mates there was Oisin Hennessy, who would also later become an inter-provincial player with Ulster.

After primary school Tommy Bowe went to Royal School Armagh, where his parish neighbour, David Eakin from Glaslough, was a teacher as well as coach of the first XV rugby squad. In his final year he missed out on selection for the Irish schools team, but that disappointment was more than counter-balanced when he was selected for the Under-20 national team. From Armagh he went to Queens University in Belfast and was soon starring with the college’s first team in the Ulster premier competitions. With two of his four year’s engineering course still to be completed, he was later transferred to the Harlequins club in Belfast, a club for which he quickly became one of the top stars.

Tommy’s talent was soon spotted by coach Alan Solomons at the tail end of the latter’s tenure with Ulster teams and he was selected for the province for the first time three years ago. He was first capped for Ireland at U20 level, and then became a permanent fixture on the Irish Under 21 squad that reached the World Cup Final in Scotland two seasons ago. This past year has been his fourth year playing on the national U21 team and each year he has gone from strength to strength. He was one of the country’s leading lights against Tonga, Argentina and France in the preliminary rounds of the remarkable twelve-team tournament, and again in the semi-final against Australia. Unfortunately he missed the decider against New Zealand because of a shoulder injury, after scoring three tries during the tournament.

Earlier on, when playing for the Irish U21 side in last year’s Six-Nations tournament, his crowning moment came when he scored a dramatic late try in the 82nd minute to give Ireland a memorable victory over England at Ravenhill in March of that year. Standing at 6ft 3ins and then weighing in at 14st, his presence on the Irish side was one of the team’s great assets, while his speed and uncanny swerve were added talents of this superb young player.

Recognition of Tommy Bowe’s prowess as a rugby player were fully acknowledged earlier that same year when he was named as the Irish Rugby Union Players Association (IRUPA) ’Young Player of the Year’ and he was presented with his award at a ceremony in the Burlington Hotel in Dublin. His impressive rate of development was quickly recognised by Irish rugby supremo, Eddie O’Sullivan, with his selection on the Irish senior team for last year’s Autumn tournament, already refereed to.

In the current rugby season which opened with the inter-provincial competitions in autumn, Tommy Bowe, now one of the first choices for the Ulster team, has again been hitting the headlines and is regularly featuring among the score-getters. His partnership with David Humphries has been working wonders for the province and his second half try in Ulster’s 36-10 win over Connacht at Ravenhill on Friday 7th October 2005 was one of the finest scores of the entire series.

Coming from an athletic family, it is no surprise that Tommy Bowe is fast reaching the sporting highlights. His father Paul was a Schools Rugby senior cup winner with Newbridge, Co Kildare in 1970 while his mother Ann played hockey for both Kildare and Leinster. Ann, too, was the official physiotherapist for the Monaghan county GAA players during the period when Sean McCague was team manager.

Tommy’s sister Hannah was also a student of Armagh Royal School where she was elected as the schools ’Head Girl’ in her final year. Remarkably she was the first ever ’Head Girl’ at Armagh Royal who had also played Gaelic Football in Croke Park - something which came as a major surprise, some might say ’shock’, to many of her fellow students, and even more so the teaching staff at the school. A fine exponent of the native code, she too played Gaelic football with the Emyvale GAA Ladies teams and she also played for Monaghan county minor team. While still at primary school, she had played on the schools team that provided the half-time entertainment at Croke Park on the last occasion when the Co. Monaghan Senior ladies team reached the All-Ireland final.

Hannah is now following in her mother’s footsteps in ladies hockey and was elected captain of the Irish U18 ladies hockey team last year - at age 17. Her ’crowning glory’ came earlier this year (2005) when she made her senior international debut with the Irish team in the Celtic Cup competition in Edinburgh, where Ireland had wins over France, Wales and Scotland.

Younger brother David now in his 5th year at Armagh is also shaping up to be a superb rugby player. Like big brother Tommy, his football career started with the Emyvale under-age GAA teams, but rugby will be his sport in the years ahead and we wish him every success in that particular field. What a family. What a record!
Tommy Bowe’s successes on the rugby field have not gone unnoticed by his ’Alma Mater’ , the Emyvale GAA club, and they made a special presentation to him at their annual banquet in the ’Scarna Inn’ Emyvale in February 2005, probably the first GAA club in the country to mark the success of one of their own in the field of professional rugby. On the same occasion, a presentation was also make to his sister Hannah in recognition of her achievements in hockey. What a lovely gesture, and what a wonderful step forward honouring and extending a welcome ’Hand of Friendship’ to players who have won fame in other codes - or in what used to be called the ’foreign games.