Ever reliable off the tee, Tiarnan Neville has been an ever-present figure in Galwegians’ First team at fly-half as the Blues continue their promotion push. Joining this season, Tiarnan has played in every corner of the globe from Australia to South America. This week, we talked about his eventful career and what the future holds with his ambitions to go professional. 

Coming from an Irish-Canadian family, Tiarnan was born and raised in Hong Kong where he spent the majority of his life. He started playing rugby at six years old, playing for DB Pirates which is  based on the island of Lantau. He would then join USRC Tigers RFC at U12s, which is one of the top teams in the Hong Kong Premiership, the highest tier of club rugby in the country. 

At youth level, he would be selected to play in an annual rugby tournament on New Year’s Day as part of a combined Hong Kong “all-stars” team that plays a team consisting of all the clubs from the peninsula of Hong Kong. Later on in his career at U16, the Hong Kong side would play an Overseas team, consisting of boarders and players who travelled abroad to train for a week and play against the Hong Kong side.

Tiarnan explains how this allowed him to represent his country at international level. “Those who were training with the Hong Kong select team get selected and do trials for the Hong Kong U18s for sevens”, said Tiarnan. “If you are good enough at 18, you get the opportunity to play with the U20s”. 

Tiarnan would go on to represent Hong Kong at underage level, including captaining his country in the U18 Asia Rugby 7s Championship and being a part of two U19 Asia Rugby Championships which qualified Hong Kong for the U20 World Rugby Trophy tournament in Brazil, a “standout moment” in Tiarnan’s early rugby career

 “The whole experience playing at Brazil for the U20 World Trophy, even if the result didn’t go our way. It was my first opportunity playing as an 18-year-old starting at my preferred position at fly-half”.

As a fly-half, Tiarnan is always looking to perfect his craft in all aspects of his game, especially with his kicking game. You can often find him on the grounds of Crowley Park working on his technique. 

Even though he grew up on the other side of the world, his Irish roots saw him playing GAA and played the sport throughout his youth. Every summer, he would play in Wexford and even achieved a couple of games for his county at underage level.

“Kicking from hand has always been a natural thing for me, I have quite a big boot. Obviously, the place kicking is very different but I try to practice as much as I can. I’d look at the kicks I missed from the previous games and my technique”. 

“For me, it’s more of a concentration thing, I have the ability to get it over the posts and kick it with the right part of your foot. But when you are on the pitch and you’re tired and fatigued, going through your processes and actually focusing on your technique. It just becomes maintain your consistency”. 

Despite not being juggernauts in the world of rugby, rugby in countries like Hong Kong or Tiarnan’s second home of Canada are continuing to blossom more and more. With the close-knit nature of these rugby societies, Tiarnan feels that it’s a rewarding place to play rugby.

“Usually when you’re playing in countries like Hong Kong or Canada, you are going to come across teams that don’t have such high-quality players, but it’s not too different to any other country you play in”. 

“It’s a sport that’s always growing and because that it’s such a niche sport, the community is always growing and the people in it are very welcoming, always offering to help you out. It’s similar to Ireland because it’s a small community and everyone tries to help each other out”.

Tiarnan would eventually leave Hong Kong to attend university in the UK, enrolling in Durham University where he would play rugby for their third team, such was the competitiveness of rugby in that college. 

Admittedly, not developing in a rugby academy like a majority of his teammates his age proved challenging to get exposure and make a name for himself. But Tiarnan wouldn’t change his early life in Hong Kong for the world and would overcome these obstacles. 

“By the time I went into university because of external circumstances I wasn’t thrust into the first team at my university because it was the best university in the country for rugby. You have to assess the situation, would I trade growing up in Hong Kong to growing up in Ireland playing in a rugby school. I don’t think I would. But it’s 100 per cent more difficult to get noticed if you are not in the system”. 

Being half-Canadian, Tiarnan has his eyes set towards North America as an avenue for the future as he looks to carve out a career in Major League Rugby, the continent’s highest level of club rugby.  

“My aspirations are to play in the MLR and I went to Canada to make a name for myself, to get in with the right people and see how it goes. It’s not that different if you’re playing for the high-level clubs like the team I was playing for, which happened to be the league champions two years in a row”.

“We had very good athletes, very smart people playing for us. They were very accepting of what I was trying to accomplish and very quick to catch on”.

Tiarnan’s last club before joining Galwegians was in Canada where he got to play with the Toronto Arrows senior academy. It was here where Tiarnan had another career highlight, winning the Coast to Coast Cup last year.

“That was a big thing for me because as I said before, the community here and the friends that you play alongside, the small nicheness of the sport in Canada made winning feel even better. We lost both of the games last year, so this year felt like a slight upset when we won”. 

Galwegians wasn’t Tiarnan’s first taste of AIL rugby as he played briefly in the top tier of club rugby with Terenure College in Division 1A. Despite only playing two games,

“I played most of my time with the seconds and even then, most of the players I played with would play for the firsts for the next year, including next year’s AIL Player of the Year and some guys that are now playing in the MLR”.

“The game I played against Cork Con in the AIL, there were about ten guys that played at professional level or had played for the Ireland U20s. It’s just another level in terms of honing your skills”. 

We fast-forward to the present where Tiarnan has played every game for Galwegians in the AIL, with great consistency off the tee as they sit second in the league. Tiarnan has been happy with the positive style of rugby played this season and is optimistic about their chances of promotion. 

“There have been some stumbling blocks but our biggest thing is accuracy in the right areas. I don’t think many teams would be offended if in the games we lost or drew, we played the better rugby”. 

“We do play an attractive brand of rugby which comes with its faults in terms of accuracy issues. But we want to go out there and play good rugby, we don’t want to go play your stereotypical 2C rugby. We are aiming to get promoted into 2B and when you get there, you will be playing against better teams”. 

“Going into the rest of the season, we got to focus on the big moments and push our last few results behind us. We have to focus on what we can control and playing at 100 per cent for all of the games”.

With an eye towards the future, Tiarnan wants to be the MLR as his primary ambition but has eyes towards other opportunities in the world of rugby. 

“I’m very pragmatic with my attitude towards rugby, it’s my passion, it’s what I love. But if I don’t make it in the MLR, I would be happyreturnback to Galwegians, doing something similar to where I am now”. 

“I would look into other avenues of professional rugby. I’m into coaching, I coached the U17s at Galwegians. I’m into refereeing, I’m an affiliate referee and I’ve refereed games for U16 and U17 games and at the university”. 

“Ideally I would love to stay in rugby, and work on being a coach if professional rugby doesn’t work out. Being a fly-half, game understanding, and game planning is a huge element of my role so I always had an interest and desire to pursue that side of rugby”.

Whatever path Tiarnan takes in the future, he certainly has a bright future in the sport and you won’t be the last you hear of him.