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16th Jun 2018

Tadhg Furlong speaks superbly on how his home, parents and GAA roots forged him

Patrick McCarry

Amid the revelry on a freezing day at Twickenham, on March 17, Tadhg Furlong located his parents in the stands and made his way straight to them.

Margaret and James Furlong were absolutely beaming and there were some tears shed, with their son happy to let his emotions show. A Grand Slam winner had emerged from Campile and another feat had been achieved on an increasingly incredible story.

Furlong came close to missing out on those St Patrick’s Day celebrations. He had lasted less than 10 minutes of the home win over Italy and had been rested for the follow-up victory over Wales. It was frustrating to watch from the sidelines as his hamstring knitted and healed, but he got back for the end-game.

It was like he had never been away. Scotland felt the brunt of it at Lansdowne Road but Furlong, like many of his teammates, found it within himself to ramp it up against England.

Furlong was a joy to watch that day. He replicated the lofty levels of intensity and purpose that he had in those two riveting games against the All Blacks. His attacking game has evolved since those November 2016 encounters and that was shown in brilliant Technicolor with his run and inside pass to CJ Stander for his try against the English.

Furlong followed up the Grand Slam by claiming the Guinness PRO14 and Champions Cup titles with Leinster. He is hoping to finish the season on the winning side of Ireland’s three-match Test Series against Australia before heading off for four weeks of anything but rugby.

Knowing Furlong, he will definitely spend a chunk of his holidays at home in Wexford. He may even be tempted out for a puck about.

I caught up with Furlong earlier this season and found him only too willing to sit back and talk about his upbringing and the role his parents and GAA had in shaping him.

“I grew up in Wexford, around 15 or 20 kilometres out of New Ross. It’s a place called Campile. We’ve a family farm there. It’s just off the coast and near the border with Waterford. Growing up, it was probably the same as most every other child in Ireland.

“I’ve got one brother and my father has a farm. He used to own a butcher shop and was a butcher for a while. Then he had an operation – he had a bit of a hernia in his stomach – and the heavy lifting went out of him for a while. My mother is from an island in West Cork, called Whitty Island. It’s just off Bantry Bay and it is a lovely part of the world, in the summer anyway!

“My father would have got out of the butcher shop when I was quite young but people would still drop up deer or something else to cut up. You’d always give him a hand with something like that… the auld fella is quite handy with a knife so it’s good for the turkey dinner, boned and rolled meat. It’s nearly a work of art!”

“It was quite light-hearted on the farm,” Furlong adds. “Mucking around with the father, or out bating a hurling ball off the back wall. It was normal for me, but a bit different to some of the rugby lads and how they would have grown up.

“You’d help the auld fella out and potter around. Summers were easy enough. Out in the fine weather and playing all sorts of games. Off hurling and playing matches left, right and centre.”

There are a few famous clips of Furlong making an impact on the local GAA pitches. He was certainly someone you would avoid going in for a 50/50 with…

Old clips of Furlong playing hurling and football, and conversations with old club and schools coaches, tell you that he was a decent dual player. The Ireland tighthead is modest enough, though, when it is suggested that he could have been on Davy Fitzgerald’s panel in another life.

“Growing up, to be honest with you, I never set out thinking, ‘I want to be a professional rugby player’. It was always a case of my just loving sport. There was never any pulling or dragging to get me out the door. Naturally enough, you play for your local club, which for me was Horeswood, and Good Counsel [my school] had a good GAA pedigree.

“In the winter-time you’d play rugby and in the summer, well, hurling was my favourite sport.”

“I would’ve messed around in Wexford underage teams but my body shape, I don’t think, wouldn’t lend too handily too it.”

It was the rugby road he set off down and he was identified as a top talent early on. Mike Ruddock, the former Leinster and Wales coach, brought him into Ireland’s underage set-up and nicknamed him ‘The Mayor of Wexford’. As most of us know by now, the confident young forward countered with a name of his own – ‘The Jukebox’.

The hits came thick and fast and The Jukebox keeps doling them out.

The end of another impressive, impactful season is near. Don’t be surprised to see Furlong enjoying some R&R down in Wexford over the summer. If you do, don’t hesitate in asking for travel tips. Furlong is happy to oblige:

“John F. Kennedy would have been, historically, from New Ross. His great, great, great grandfather would have emigrated to America. He was from the parish of Horeswood, where I would have played football for a good few years. That’s a nice little connection. And there’s the Dunbrody Famine Ship that is good for tourists to see.

“Growing up, we would have been on the door-step for a lot of beaches, quiet beaches, in the south-west of Wexford. It’s really nice. Hook Head is lovely.”

A man who knows where he is going but who’ll never forget where he is from.

You can listen to the full Tadhg Furlong interview [below] from 39:00:

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