Former Irish U20 John Poland is keeping options open after US season cut short

Former Irish U20 John Poland is keeping options open after US season cut short
Kevin O'Leary, Dolphin, tackles, James French, UCC, who still gets his pass away to John Poland. Picture: Jim Coughlan

AFTER his debut campaign in USA’s Major League Rugby was cut short with five rounds played, Ballinora native John Poland is uncertain of what lies ahead for him in the remaining months of 2020.

A former Ireland U20 international, the elusive scrum-half touched down in Boston last December to join forces with New England Free Jacks.

John Poland  in action for Ireland U20s. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer
John Poland  in action for Ireland U20s. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer

A new addition to the MLR this season, Josh Smith’s side were still coming to terms with a step-up in quality when the competition was cancelled on March 19 owing to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

With the Free Jacks not set to resume competitive fare until January 2021, Poland may have to look elsewhere in an effort to maintain his match sharpness.

John Poland began his professional rugby career with the New England Free Jacks in the USA Major League Rugby.
John Poland began his professional rugby career with the New England Free Jacks in the USA Major League Rugby.

He had previously contemplated a brief spell in the southern hemisphere and though he says such a move appears unlikely at the moment, he is certainly keeping his options open.

“I’m hoping to try and find my way down to New Zealand or Australia if possible. That was kind of the plan anyway.

“I’d try and head down there, get some experience of playing different styles of rugby. Just some life experience as well while I’m young and I don’t have many things holding me back,” Poland said.

“I’ve got my college degree and I’ve a good bit of time off. New England are happy for me to do it.

“At the moment, I’m trying to sort out heading down to New Zealand. Down to Dunedin maybe.

“Obviously, with these coronavirus restrictions, it’s going to be hard to go anywhere. If I’m able to travel, that will definitely be the plan.

“If it is at all possible, I’ll be hopefully heading over.”

While he had spent several months with the Free Jacks, circumstances dictated that Poland never got to play in the club’s Massachusetts-based home ground.

Initial encounters with Rugby United New York and Utah Warriors took place in the neutral terrain of Nevada, followed by tricky away assignments to San Diego Legion, Seattle Seawolves and NOLA Gold as part of a tour of the West Coast.

They were finally set to welcome Houston SaberCats to Union Sports Complex on March 14, only for all games across the States to be brought to a halt.

“It would have been amazing. It was going to be the first Free Jacks MLR game in Boston and they’d sold 3,500 tickets and there would have been more on the day.

“It would have been a good turnout for sure and it was Paddy’s weekend. Obviously that’s a big thing in Boston,” said Poland.

“We were really looking forward to getting out at home and having a few supporters at the game.

“Playing the first game in Boston after training there for so long. It wasn’t to be.

“Next year hopefully there’ll be a full season and we’ll get to play our first home game in Boston.

“Get all the people to come back who were going to come this year.”

During his relatively short time in The Bay State, Poland found himself among familiar company.

In addition to fellow Irish men like Tadhg Leader, Sean McNulty and Ronan McCusker, the 23-year-old was reunited with former Cork Constitution team-mate Conor Kindregan.

Former Cork Constitution scrum half John Poland tries to break through the Highfield defence. Picture: Des Barry
Former Cork Constitution scrum half John Poland tries to break through the Highfield defence. Picture: Des Barry

“I played with him in Cork Con for two years.

“We won the AIL, we won two Bateman Cups, two Munster Senior Cups and we got to the AIL final both years.

“Kindregan would have been a big part of that. Then I went to UCC and I played with Kindregan again with the Irish Clubs side last year, just before he moved out to Boston.

“He had a part to play in me getting involved and coming over. It was great to have him over there to see what the atmosphere was like and what I was getting myself into before I signed.

“Also good to have a friend and someone that is of a similar culture and would have similar ideas about rugby to me. I was going over knowing I wouldn’t be completely in the dark or out of my comfort zone.”

A product of the Munster Academy, Poland lined out once for the Reds’ first-team in a February 2018 victory over Zebre in the Guinness PRO14.

Having tasted life in the provincial system (he was a British & Irish Cup winner with the Munster ‘A’ side in 2016/17) Poland doesn’t rule out the possibility of returning to it one day.

John Poland played senior cup rugby with Pres. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
John Poland played senior cup rugby with Pres. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Before then, a reunion with either of his former clubs in the AIL could be on the cards for the finance graduate if he has to remain on these shores.

“I’d love to come back and play with one of the provinces. Even if I can’t travel this year now, I’ll probably play in the AIL with UCC or one of the Cork teams.

“If one of the provinces were to come calling, I’d be delighted to play for any of them. Just to play in Ireland and to play in the PRO14. To play for a province would be amazing.

“However unlikely it may seem now, you never know.

“It could happen. At the moment, I’m just focused on staying fit and playing as well as I can. I’m really enjoying playing in America and playing in the MLR.

“Seeing so much of America and meeting so many new people. The different challenges it brings,” Poland said.

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