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Kyle McCallan: From Ireland cricketer to Danske Bank Schools’ Cup rugby coach

Friday, 25 January 2013

“The big difference between rugby and cricket players is that rugby players know that if they put their body on the line for 80 minutes they will also have the constant support of 14 other players around them for those 80 minutes. The cricketer is someone whose contest is more in the mind and, whether a batsman or bowler, you’re very alone out there on those 22 yards of cut grass” – South Africa’s mental conditioning coach Henning Gericke, who made the switch from working from the international rugby team to the international cricket side.

Kyle McCallan knows all about what it is like to play that contest of the mind. He represented Ireland at cricket on a record 226 occasions, he captained Ireland 54 times and he was awarded an MBE for services to the sport. He is now Head of PE at Grovesnor Grammar School and this weekend will coach the school’s rugby 1st XV in a very different form of sporting contest – a Danske Bank Schools’ Cup third round match against Dalriada.

“I think that the boys are sick and tired of hearing me harp back to my glory days in cricket – which I do regularly!” says Kyle. They understand and respect the fact that myself and Mr White (Ireland cricketer, Andrew White, also teaches at the school) have played sport at a high level and understand the pressures and what it took us to get there. In many ways that has suited Grovesnor because when we play rugby, we are underdogs. When I played cricket for Ireland, I spent my entire career as an underdog, so I know how to approach it and I know how to get the mindset right.”

On paper, rugby and cricket couldn’t be more different. One, a fast paced, contact sport, full of hard hits and aggression, played over 80 minutes. The other is as much mental as it is physical, played sometimes over 5 days and with breaks for lunch and tea. For Kyle McCallan, however the qualities required to win in any sporting contest are universal.

“Preparation, attitude and discipline,” he says. “Gary Hunter is Head Coach of the First XV and he would be the brains of the operation in terms of rugby. I have experience of playing in big matches and I have learned some of the attributes that are required to succeed when it really counts. We spend our whole year building up to the Schools’ Cup. I suppose results don’t really count until we step out onto the pitch against Dalriada.

“Rugby is almost professional in schools now. It’s incredibly difficult, but there was no cricket in Grovesnor ten years ago and we won the Schools’ Cup last year. However, winning is not why we take rugby here in the school. We teach it so that the boys enjoy it, they are passionate about it and they take it seriously. Winning a Schools’ Cup would be the cherry on top, but it’s certainly not the sole motivation for what we do here.”

Grovesnor have the luxury of home advantage on Saturday. They take on Dalriada – a school that they played in the opening game of the schools’ season and lost to. However, McCallan believes that progress made since then could make a difference at the weekend:

“We perhaps haven’t got the results that we are capable of, but at the end of the day, you have to get over the line. We have done a lot of work over the past few weeks about attitudes and how to get over the line, so hopefully it will pay dividends.”

Last year, Grovesnor beat Sullivan Upper, but lost to Campbell College away in the next round.  The school has only ever won the Danske Bank Schools’ Cup on one occasion – back in 1983. Thirty years on, could there be a repeat this year?

“I think the Ulster Branch have got it right,” he concludes. “In my day, if you lost your game, that was you. Nowadays, if heaven forbid we lose on Saturday, we will drop down into a subsidiary competition. Your competitive season is elongated and there is no doubt that that maintains interest, it maintains enthusiasm. We have a huge amount of boys who leave the school having had a positive experience of rugby and who go on to play at club level. At the end of the day that is a success for us as well. I am not denying the fact that we would love to win the Schools’ Cup but I am realistic to know that our primary role is to produce rugby players and to produce guys who enjoy and love the game.”

A win on Saturday would certainly be enjoyed by the young players of Grovesnor Grammar School.