Home Rugby 5 Players Who Have Transitioned from GAA to Rugby

5 Players Who Have Transitioned from GAA to Rugby

Ireland’s sporting tradition has ensured that many players have transitioned between the GAA and Rugby.

With England’s rugby media endlessly discussing whether or not Sam Burgess will manage to make the transition from Rugby League to Union, we have decided to look at five Irish players who have successfully crossed the sporting bridge between GAA and rugby.

Tommy Bowe

The Monaghan born winger has scored 28 tries for Ireland,  earned five caps for the Lions, and of course received two stars for his cooking exploits on The Restaurant. However the catalyst for Tommy Bowe’s successful was Emyvale GAA Club.

Bowe began playing football with Emyvale at under 10 and went on to represent Monaghan at Minor level. However he left behind the chance to play with Conor McManus and the rest of the Monaghan team to begin a career as a professional rugby player.

Tomás O’Leary

Tomás O’Leary it seemed was destined to hurl for Cork. His father, the great Seánie O’Leary, won four All Ireland Titles with the rebel county and Tomás was set to follow suit after winning minor titles in 2000 and 2001.

However after being introduced to rugby while studying in Christian Brothers College in Cork city, Tomás O’Leary choose to pursue a career in the sport. O’Leary played in the Irish under 21 team that reached the World Cup Final in 2004 and went on to replace Peter Stringer in Munster’s Heineken Cup triumph in 2008.

O’Leary went onto to win 24 caps for Ireland and was unlucky not to travel with the Lions in 2009, after breaking his ankle against the Scarlets before the tour departed.

Mick Galwey

Like O’Leary, it seemed much more likely that the legendary Mick Galwey would enjoy a sporting career in the GAA. Galwey had after all won an All Ireland with Kerry in 1986, and even captained the Kingdom against Limerick in a 1989 Munster Championship encounter.

Indeed ‘Gaillimh’ played in the Currow team that won the Kerry Junior Football Championship in 1988, and was part of the St. Kieran’s team that defeated Dr. Crokes in the Kerry Senior Football Championship Final the same year.

His move to rugby is all the more surprising, given that at the time, it was also an amateur sport. However his transition to the oval ball was seamless, earning his first Ireland cap in 1991 against France. In 1993 Galwey scored a famous try against England in the Five Nations, and ultimately earned a place on the Lions Tour to New Zealand that year.

Galwey’s success on the rugby field continued with Shannon, with whom he won six All Ireland League Titles, including the famous four in a row between 1994 and 97.

With the birth of professionalism, Galwey became a key part of Munster’s early success, captaining the province on 85 occasions.

Strangely Galwey was dropped by Ireland on a record 17 occasions.

Gavin Duffy

Connacht legend Gavin Duffy made 174 appearances for the province in two stints between 2001 and 2014. It is a haul that is made more impressive after you consider that he played for Harlequins on 110 occasions between 2003 and 2006.

However before his rugby career began Duffy played football with his native Mayo, appearing in the county’s 1999 All Ireland Minor Final defeat to Down. Duffy played midfield that day, in a Myo team that contained future senior stars, Billy Joe Padden and Alan Dillon.

However what makes Duffy interesting is that after he had retired from Connacht, he returned to the GAA with Galway side Salthill-Knocknacarra. Although it seemed that an inter-county career was behind Duffy, James Horan brought him into the Mayo squad for the 2014 Championship.

However Duffy would have to wait until the 2015 to make his senior inter-county debut against Sligo in the FBD League.

Shane Horgan

A list such as this could not be complete without the inclusion of Meath’s Shane Horgan. The big winger played for the Meath Minor team that lost to Dublin in the 1996 Leinster semi final, a game in which Horgan scored a point.

However with a Kiwi father, Horgan had rugby blood in his veins, and joined Lansdowne in 1997. Leinster soon came calling and Horgan received his first Ireland cap against Scotland in 2000. In 2005 Horgan travelled with the Lions to New Zealand and the following year he scored the try that won Ireland the Triple Crown against England in Twickenham.

However Horgan’s most iconic moment occurred when he caught Ronan O’Gara’s high cross field kick in Croke Park against England in 2007.

Horgan channelled his midfield instincts to catch the ball and is the perfect way to complete this list.

Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena



About Alan Drumm