TOMÁS QUINLAN IS just coming off the beach in 30°C heat when we speak and he’s happy to report that his new life in Narbonne has been “pretty perfect” so far.
The 23-year-old out-half joined the French club in July after impressing consistently for Cork Con in the AIL in recent years.
Many people in Cork rugby are firm in their belief that Quinlan should still be part of the Munster system, but he was let go by the province in 2016 after one season in their academy.
Quinlan celebrates Cork Con’s AIL title in 2017. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO
Having shone for Con since, Quinlan now gets the chance to be a professional player with Racing Club de Narbonne Méditerannée, two-time French champions but currently facing into a season in the third-tier Fédérale 1.
Narbonne are ”pretty confident of going back up” to the Pro D2 at the first time of asking, according to Quinlan, who is sure to be a key figure in the number 10 shirt, with the club kicking-off their Féd 1 season at home to Céret this evening.
Quinlan is a former Ireland U20 international – his dramatic last-gasp match-winning penalty at the 2015 Junior World Championship made headlines – and he has harboured pro ambitions since Munster released him.
A brilliant season for Cork Con in 2016/17, when the club won the AIL and four other trophies, led to Quinlan receiving a phone call from rugby agent Tom Beattie, who had been tipped off that the out-half had professional potential.
Quinlan opted to finish his degree in Business Administration at CIT in 2017/18 before working with Beattie to find a club ahead of this season.
There were “ifs and buts” with a few clubs they spoke to before Quinlan agreed to head to South Canterbury in New Zealand’s Heartland Championship, the plan being to work his way up through the ranks of Kiwi rugby.
“There was no obligation to sign a contract there or anything but I was 24 hours away from booking flights, had confirmed the move, and my agent called me,” says Quinlan. “He was roaring down the phone, ‘Don’t book anything yet! A club wants you in France.’”
With former Northampton scrum-half Johnny Howard, now based in Béziers, linking them to Narbonne, Quinlan soon signed a deal and found himself heading for the south of France.
Quinlan in action against Clontarf earlier this year. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
“I said if I didn’t do it now, I’d never do it,” explains the former Christian Brothers College, Cork student Quinlan. “I suppose there’s the odd person who makes it when they’re 25 or 26 but I said if I didn’t go now, I might not get another opportunity. So here I am.”
Temperatures of up to 40°C when he first arrived meant sleepless nights but with English team-mate Shay Kerry putting him up, Quinlan has settled in quickly. His French isn’t strong but lessons will start soon and communicating on the pitch hasn’t been an issue.
Narbonne have naturally scaled back their budget this season, but their facilities are good, with a 12,000-capacity stadium, as well as 4G and grass training pitches alongside it and a gym underneath one of the stands.
Before taking the leap, Quinlan did seek advice from best friend Ryan Foley, the former Cork Con scrum-half who played in France with Nice and Grasse before joining English Championship side Ealing this summer.
“He said the first two months would be tough with the different lifestyle and just trying to get stuff done,” explains Quinlan, who is a superb goal-kicker.
“But Ryan said we’re getting lucky with the chances we got because we’re living in the south of France and getting paid to do what we love.”
Quinlan also got in touch with former Munster men Frank Bradshaw-Ryan at Nevers and Steve McMahon in the nearby Carcassonne, with both speaking positively of their experiences.