Ciaran Booth is a nineteen year old professional rugby player, contracted to Sale Sharks, and capped by Ireland at U20 level. We met for a chat to discuss what it’s like being a young rugby player today, running through the highs and lows of his career to date.
Rugby is a sport full of occupational hazards, as the image of Ciaran hobbling down the road, his left leg in a full length brace, quickly reaffirms. Two weeks ago, he ruptured his Medial Collateral, Anterior and Posterior Cruciate knee ligaments, whilst playing for Ireland in the U20s World Cup.
It was a horrific incident, one that laid bare the current brutality of collisions at the breakdown, with an Italian opponent flying in from the side whilst Ciaran, a backrow, was jackaling for the ball, only for his leg to get caught beneath his body and knee to give way. He will be side-lined for a year.
“I heard it before anything else,” he explains, “a proper bone wrenching sound.” I ask whether he harbours any bad feelings towards the perpetrator, but he admits he’s probably done something similar countless times before, and suggests that if the breakdown isn’t policed properly then players are naturally going to seek every available advantage, before going on, “I’m not going to be campaigning for it or anything, but the rule should be changed.”
Even for such a young player then, the risks entailed in playing professional rugby are abundantly clear, “everything can fall beneath your feet just like that,” he says, before glancing down towards the injured leg and adding dryly, “as I’m sure you can see.”
Born and bred in Manchester, England, Ciaran’s route to Argentina for the U20’s World Cup was slightly more roundabout than that of some of his Irish teammates.
We discuss school rugby, he says he turned down a chance to go to Sedbergh for Sixth Form, one of the country’s leading rugby schools, because he thought staying at St. Ambrose College would be a “life lesson,” elaborating that, “I know that if I’d gone there we’d have just won every game.”
He suggests the current system, with boarding schools capable of importing the best players from around the country, and beyond, is almost professionalising school boy rugby, “it’s like signing for a club… it’s obviously not good people taking good players out of state schools but it’s not going to stop, it’s just the way it is.”
During that period of his life, he was, he says, “worried about tunnel vision, ‘will it get monotonous?’, but switching off helps.” Ciaran’s band, ‘The Monday Night Club,’ who have been going since his school days, were due to play a sold out show at the Deaf Institute in Manchester on Friday night, a gig they were forced to cancel due to his injury.
After successfully balancing playing the drums in his band, school rugby and the U18’s Premiership season, he recalls the disappointment of not being picked for England, only to then receive a phone call, in which he was asked, “would you ever consider playing for Ireland?”
It all happened, he says, “very quickly and very unexpectedly.” His family is Irish, and own a house there, and so the transition was natural, and whilst “weird at first… the more it went on the more Irish I felt.”
In spite of the injury, the U20’s World Cup was “amazing,” a real learning curve and an introduction to life in a touring camp, with all its order and regimentation, “even when you’re resting it’s like okay, I’m resting now for two hours,” he explains. He is, nevertheless, full of praise for the Irish set up, and the way the players were handled in the tournament.
We move on to discuss life playing at Sale. Ciaran is yet to make his debut for the first team, although he has captained the ‘A’ Team, Sale Jets, in his own words, “through two pretty heavy losses.”
It has, therefore, been a season of learning, spent between the Jets, an enjoyable loan spell in the Championship at Doncaster, and training with the rest of the Sale first team, “you’re kind of thrown in at the deep end, whereas for most of them it’s just another season.” I ask whether that brings pressure, but he shakes his head, “it’s a good pressure, it’s not so much pressure but more a privilege.”
However, the step up, he says, has been noticeable, “in terms of knowledge most of all,” before laughing, “lineouts are a lot more complicated than people think… if you drop a pass then okay you need to practice your passing and catching, but if you mess up a call because you’ve not learn it, you’ve got no excuse.”
He lists Ross Harrison (“he trains harder than anyone”), the Curry twins and Johnny Leota as amongst his biggest inspirations at Sale, and highlights Cameron Redpath, Sam Dugdale and Teddy Leatherbarrow as young players to watch in coming seasons.
Ciaran will have to compete with Dugdale, Leatherbarrow, Jono Ross, the Currys and now the du Preez brothers and Mark Wilson for a spot in Sale’s increasingly contested backrow, but this doesn’t seem to faze him, “if you back yourself, take your opportunities and tear up when you train, it’ll come.”
We wish him the best of luck.
Written by Joe Ronan, with thanks to Ciaran Booth