Undaunted by the prospect of succeeding Bernard Jackman, DCU’s new Rugby Development Officer Phil de Barra tells Tom Rooney he is determined to plant his own flag this season.
Aesthetically Phil de Barra does not bare any of the hallmarks associated with years spent in the trenches; the facial scars, cauliflower ears and a world-weary hobble are nowhere to be found. Yet, the 29-year-old Dubliner first picked up a rugby ball almost a quarter of a century ago.
While his credentials may not be as glamorous as his predecessors, de Barra has amassed a wealth of experience during a lifetime dedicated to the game. His journey to this juncture began as a six-year-old, joining his father’s club, De La Salle Palmerston, where he is currently the player/coach of their senior side in the AIL Division 2B.
An out half – which probably explains the lack of facial wear and tear – he played schools for High School in Rathgar before attending IT Tallaght on a sporting scholarship, in which time he represented Leinster Colleges.
He then worked for the Leinster Branch as a youth development officer prior to completing a BA in Sports and Exercise at IT Carlow. He resumed his position with the Leinster Branch until taking his current post in August.
Due to unsavoury weather conditions a ball is yet to be kicked in his brief tenure, he is none the less satisfied with the level of organisation off the pitch. “So far I’m having a great time; there is a really enthusiastic committee here, who want the best for the club.”
With all four sides reaching the semi-final stages in their respective competitions last season, some would feel stifled by the weight of expectation, but not de Barra. “I’m certainly not worried about it, they did have a good year last year, and to achieve that again would be remarkable.
“I think the girls could push for promotion and we could probably bring home one cup as well. That would be my goal, I would also like to work on training; I think it’s an area we can improve on,” he said.
Of course, this is not a one-man job so he has assembled an impressive coaching staff to supplement his own skillset. James Winstanley, a South African with professional coaching experience will look after the forwards and Glen Pready from the Leinster branch will take charge of the senior seconds.
The Ladies side will be marshalled by Wayne Brennan and Women’s World Cup winning scrum-half Mir Baker from New Zealand. de Barra will primarily focus on coaching the Force’s backline which may yield some interesting results given his refreshingly free-spirited rugby ethos.
“My general philosophy would be that it has to be enjoyable. I want the guys to try stuff on the pitch and everybody to feel free that they can do things. Things like not kicking a ball for fifteen minutes, lateral planning. If we have the ability, it should be as expansive as possible and kept enjoyable and fluid.”
Opportunities to showcase this new brand of play should be more plentiful than last season, which was plagued with a litany of cancellations early on – in many circumstances for trivial reasons, which meant there was a minimal amount of game time in the normal season.
In order to avoid a repeat of such calamity and to give the season a level of continuity, CUSAI has restructured the group phase. Instead of four groups of three where each side plays each other twice, there will now be two groups of five, each team will play each other once and be given a bye. The top two sides in each group will advance to the penultimate stage.
The senior side have been drawn in Group B of Division 1 with last year’s runners-up Athlone IT, NUI Maynooth, whom the Force vanquished at the quarter final stage last year, as well as GMIT and the University of Ulster.
The new boss is pleased with the draw, while acknowledging it is not without some serious challenges, the ultimate goal remains, however, acquiring some silverware come season’s end.
“I’m happy with the draw. Athlone away is going to be hard obviously, they tend to be very strong. We do have them early on, so if we’re organised enough we should have a go at that. If I was to set a goal it would be that we win the league, because it would be a stage further than last year. That would be the target and I think that’s fair enough.”
The Force’s opening game of the season will be against the University of Ulster in St. Clare’s on Wednesday, October 24th.