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Clare & Munster's Ethan Coughlan. ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

“I Am Doing Everything With A Smile On My Face And Enjoying The Moment”

Ennis College Further Education

There are not too many sporting stories that begin in the waiting room of a dentist’s clinic, but that is where Ethan Coughlan’s path to a Munster Heineken Cup squad started.

The Ennis man has been enjoying a dream start to 2021, as he travelled to Italy for the provinces PRO14 clash with Treviso at the end of January, and will also be part of the senior squad for their massive last 16 European showdown with Toulouse this weekend.

His progression through the ranks at the province has seen him feature regularly with the Munster A side in recent months, with those performances likely to have caught the eye of the Ireland U20 management.

Coughlan, who turns 19 this month, also had the honour of captaining his country as he led out the Irish U-18 side in Italy in 2019 in what was his second appearance in an Irish jersey, while he made the move to the All Ireland League having been signed by Shannon RFC last year.

He outlined that the first steps on that journey came in the most unlikely of places.

“I was at a dentist appointment and there was a brochure up on the wall looking for people to take up rugby. I was always someone who was into sport and I was playing a lot of soccer and GAA at the time. My mother asked me if I wanted to try it out and I said I would. We were training twice a week in the paddock at Ennis Rugby Club from the time I was 11 years old and it just developed from there” he recalled.

His time with Ennis Rugby saw the club enjoy one of their most successful periods in the underage ranks with titles won at all grades along the way. He feels that taking up the sport at a young age helped in his development but said that the attitude you take towards that development is a crucial factor.

“People come to rugby at different ages, and you only have to look at the likes of Paul O’Connell who didn’t start until he was 18. It all depends on how quick you learn and adapt, but it also depends on how interested in learning you are too. I really enjoyed playing rugby from the start because we had some really good coaches and we had a very special team in Ennis at a time when we won a lot” he noted.

Prior to committing solely to his rugby career, Coughlan enjoyed plenty success in both hurling and football with St Joseph’s Doora Barefield which culminated in winning the Minor A football title in 2018. He says it was an enjoyable time but there are no regrets about choosing to follow his rugby dream.

“We had a good team in Doora Barefield who won the U-16 hurling and football and minor football. If you have a group of people who are talented who have a common goal, it is a great basis for success. It was an easy decision to give it up in one sense because of how much I loved rugby, but at the same time I really enjoyed playing football. Hurling was easier to walk away from but I really enjoyed football. If things were not going the way they are at the moment, I might be wondering if I made the right decision but things are going well for me now” he said.

The approach from Shannon RFC to make the move to the next step of his career came last year, but the outbreak of Covid-19 meant that only a handful of games were played. He admits that making the step to the next level was a daunting one but one that was eased by the welcome he received.

“On my first day in Shannon the lads were very welcoming and made it very easy to come in and fit in around the place. There is a massive history around the club and that was one of the big reasons I joined. It is hard to leave the club you grew up with along with your best friends, but sometimes change is good and I needed that change. It was a great opportunity to get and gave me a chance to see how I can get the best out of myself at the club” he noted.

The former Rice College student is currently studying Sports Strength and Conditioning at Limerick Senior College, juggling his studies and sporting commitments in a busy schedule. It is a challenging time but one he says he is enjoying.

“We have five pitch sessions and six or seven gym sessions which means you are up at 6.30am and you are gone for more than 12 hours a day. You have meetings and different sessions to do and it is tough. You come home then and you might have college assignments due so even though you are wrecked from training, you need to fit that time in. You have to think about recovery and then analyzing sessions to take out your learnings for the coaches so it means that there is very little time for much else outside of that. It is often a case of just getting home, having something to eat and going to bed. I am enjoying it though and learning about the anatomy and nutrition is beneficial in helping me to better understand what needs to be done in a sporting context too” he said.

The call to join up with the Munster senior squad in January came after a period of training with the senior squad at the High Performance Centre in UL. He outlined that the initial weeks were somewhat surreal as he found himself training with high profile athletes that were role models for him when he started out on his own journey.

“It was surreal but all those early mornings and late evenings are worth it when you are in a changing room with all these guys. It still hasn’t sunk in really to be honest. I walk into the High Performance Centre and everyone just says hello to everyone. It wasn’t that long ago when I was sitting on the couch on a Friday night watching all these guys playing PRO14 games and here I am now warming up with them and travelling with them which is unbelievable. You just have to adapt to the physicality and that was one of the big things I found playing AIL. The execution of your skills and the speed that you do things, your thought process and decision making all has to be a lot quicker, but the physicality is massive” he stated.

There are plenty more high points to come in his developing career, but the night he captained Ireland is one that he feels will always rank among the most memorable.

“Once I was told that I would be captain for that game, you could not wipe the smile from my face. As an individual, it was one of my proudest moments. No matter what I do throughout life or whatever happens with my career over the next few years, I can always carry that with me. It was my second time to play for Ireland and it was a really enjoyable experience. You have coaches giving you these big pep talks before games, but we were just told to go out and enjoy it. That is something that I have noticed so much more recently. When you are getting to warm up with the senior team or travelling to PRO14 games, you realise that you are doing everything with a smile on your face and you are happy to go and do anything you are asked to do. They are the moments you enjoy” he said.

Family is also something that plays a big role in his life, and he outlined that the support from his parents in particular has been invaluable.

“Mam and Dad have made so many sacrifices for me to be where I am. It is a cliché that everyone says, but I cannot thank them enough. It is those days when I had to be in a gym at 6.30am and they are up at 5.30am to bring me. They are the sacrifices they are making for me to be where I am. I get to enjoy everything and I get to do the easy work in going out to do what I love. They are the ones getting up at that time of the morning to bring me to do it and that is only one example of the type of sacrifices they have made for me” he acknowledged.

Another milestone in his career awaits this weekend when he will be involved with the Munster squad as they bid to reach the last eight of the Heineken Cup. The focus will then switch to the selection of the Irish U-20 squad in the coming weeks, with hopes that Coughlan will be included on the panel.

There are plenty reasons to be hopeful that he will take that next step in his development, while a debut for Munster is also a target for the talented Banner youngster.

About Colin McGann

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