As Elite Player Development Officer for Connacht Rugby, Colm Tucker is at the heart of the development of young adult rugby players in the province.
 
Along with his day-to-day work with the Connacht Academy, Tucker is also forwards coach of the Ireland U20s setup who, while they have been disrupted by COVID, have strung some impressive results together in the last two years of the U20 Six Nations.
 
ConnachtRugby.ie spoke to him about his work with the international setup, his job with the Academy and what Connacht supporters can look forward to in the years ahead.
 

You’ve been an Elite Player Development Officer since last August. Tell us what the role entails and what your day-to-day schedule is like in unusual circumstances.
 
My principal job revolves around identification and development of the forwards for the Connacht Academy. Day-to-day we would work on collective sessions technically, and then one-on-one sessions individually with them as well. What’s also very important is building habits with them around training and training reviews which are obviously online now, and the use of our Hudl system and Sportscode to get clips in and out to them. I also sit as part of an interdisciplinary team with my objectives and goals around the rugby department with Mossy Lawler. It’s a very holistic approach to player development – we have an Athletic Performance department, a physio department, a personal development & lifestyle department and a nutrition department so it’s a very player centred approach where we work collaboratively from the pitch out.
 
From my point of view, while my responsibility centres around rugby, all of us are working towards that same north star of making these guys professional rugby players. For instance if a player has a positional requirement like increased strength or power, then it’s about me tying in with the Athletic Performance and Nutrition teams to make sure he’s getting the right information so he can be more effective on the pitch. I’d also collaborate with Aidan O’Flynn on personal development to develop the mental aspects of their game, like a hooker having a throw process, slowing their heart rate etc. So we’re all pointing towards the same thing but it’s a very collaborative approach.
 
The last thing that closes off the loop which Eric Elwood is very big on in the Academy, is that players have something outside of rugby. One if unfortunately, they don’t make it they’ll have something to fall back on, and secondly if they do become professional players they have something to fall back on when their careers come to an end. So it’s a dynamic and challenging environment but I really enjoy the day-to-day aspect of coaching and we have strong relationships with the Professional coaches as well which is brilliant. I think the biggest strength of Connacht Rugby is its people and we have to provide accurate information to the coaches about players, and that relationship is a really strong part of Connacht.
 
You’ve been involved with the Ireland U20s for a while now as well, so how have you found that experience so far?
 
It’s brilliant. It’s the flagship team for the IRFU pathway in terms of players. It’s the last point for them to put on a green jersey before they hopefully move on to the Professional ranks in the four provinces. From my point of view I was appointed three weeks before the Argentina World Cup in 2019 so I’m very thankful to have a very supportive family at home who got behind it straight away and Connacht Rugby were the same. It is challenging and rewarding, it is demanding but it is very, very enjoyable at the same time. You’re preparing teams and players to proudly play in some of the most demanding matches they’ve ever played in.
 
While it’s competitive and you want them to perform, you still can’t take your eyes away from the fact that it’s still a pathway team and the environment has to be a massive learning environment. They’re still young, progressing and developing so there’s a dual-purpose role to it, but it’s been an unbelievable experience, first with the World Cup and then managing to secure that Triple Crown before COVID hit us last year. In terms of my own journey as a coach it’s probably been the highlight so far, and hopefully there’s much more to come.
 
There was a large number of Connacht players called into an U20 camp before the postponement of this year’s Six Nations, so that must say a lot about the work being done here?
 
The lads that we have in the U20s this year were involved in the Connacht team that were successful in the U18 interpros a few years back for the first time in 10 years. They formed the backbone of that team and it’s great to see them progressing every year. Every challenge we’ve thrown in front of them they’ve risen to it and that’s what you want to see from the players.
 
Our job is to stretch them and keep challenging them and see how they react to those stresses, and it’s our job as coaches to see if they have the minerals to be professional rugby players. So yes, even though they had that success at U18s, that came from being brilliant trainers, having a great work ethic and always wanting to get better. The U20s is the next stepping-stone for them so it’s going to be brilliant to see how they react to that environment and fight for that jersey. So I’m very excited about the potential in the group so far this year.
 
What’s the most pleasing aspect of working with that age group of young adult players from 18-21?
 
I think it’s everything. They’re like sponges in that they soak up everything, so I feel that day-to-day it’s very rewarding in watching them grow and get better. I’m also very big on relationship building. I really enjoy getting to know them, their backgrounds and what they’ve come from. I really enjoy getting to know what motivates them and involving them in their plans because I think that’s really important for the modern young man.
 
At the end of the day seeing those players succeed and train with the Pro squad if asked is a brilliant part of our job, but for me it’s also about the little things. It’s the day-to-day grind of working hard with them and all those one percenters add up to seeing them progress and move on.
 
Finally, are Connacht supporters right to be excited about what’s coming down the line?
 
Absolutely they are. There’s huge potential in our Academy at the moment. As I’ve said already it’s a group of players who have consistently met challenges that we’ve put in front of them whether that be matches or training. I think in a year or two they’re going to be knocking on the door up the line and pushing people for places which is exactly what Andy Friend and his coaching ticket want. He wants his Professional squad looking over their shoulders at the Academy lads coming up and pushing for their places which will create a better environment.
 
I think it’s also very important when talking about the Academy to also mention the work that’s being done at grassroots level with the volunteers. It’s a huge opportunity for a population of half a million people in the West of Ireland to have a professional rugby team. I worked for 9 months initially as a Coach Development Officer when I first came to Connacht and I met some wonderful people around the province and in that Club & Community department. So I’ve seen first-hand the work that goes in on the ground and the volunteers who bring kids in when they’re six or seven, and work hard with them to make them love the game. I’ve also seen the next steps when they come in the Connacht pathway at aged 15 and the work that the CDOs do with them. Getting to the Academy is then the next step in their journey.

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