Anna Caplice: Tom Tierney was a great coach, a great person and a great friend

He also had a huge influence on many current and recently retired players
Anna Caplice: Tom Tierney was a great coach, a great person and a great friend

Head coach Tom Tierney talks to his team after the Japan game at the Rugby World Cup. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

LAST week I wrote about the importance of role models in our lives. 

Little did I know that by the time I would be sitting down to write this week’s column, the rugby community in Limerick, Munster and Ireland would have lost one of its own. 

Tom Tierney was a well-loved character and the tributes flowing in from all his former teammates from Munster, Connacht, Leicester and Ireland are testament to him as a player, with most referencing his funny personality and his big smile. 

He also had a huge influence on many current and recently retired players as their coach.

I hadn’t seem Tom in ages until I ran into him recently in UL. 

“What’s this?” when he saw myself and Chloe Pearse. “The antiques roadshow?” 

Glad I was with someone from Limerick with wit as sharp to match that of TT. 

“Pot kettle Tom,” said Chloe and we all had a laugh and carried on. He had awarded both of us with our first Ireland caps in 2016.

Tom was my coach for my first few years in an Ireland 15s shirt. I’ll never forget the call. 

“Anna, how’s it going? You’re going to get your first cap for Ireland on Saturday versus Canada alright?” 

“Yes, that’s alright. Thanks Tom.” 

Anna Caplice of Ireland is tackled by Magali Harvey of Canada. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Anna Caplice of Ireland is tackled by Magali Harvey of Canada. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

I suppose no coach ever knows exactly how a player reacts once the phonecall is finished, but if he could have seen me collapse in tears on the floor he would have known the significance of the moment for me. 

Reflecting on it now, it was one of the biggest moments of my life.

Another moment in my rugby career that I will never forget was when the bus pulled into Dublin on August 27, 2017. 

The day after the Women’s Rugby World Cup came to an end and we said goodbye to Tom as our coach. 


Everyone grabbed their bags in silence and left. My heart was so heavy. I couldn’t believe and still can’t that it ended the way it did. 

That the wheels had come off so badly. That our time with Tom as our coach, after achieving great things together, ended so bitterly. Nobody deserved that.

Despite that, whenever we remember Tom, we talk about his brilliance as a coach, his energy, his smile, his technical explanations and how he must have had an endless supply of Wrigley's chewing gum to keep him chewing away his nerves on the sidelines. 

I often also wondered how many Bic ballpoint pens he chewed to pieces. When things got extra stressful it was fired onto the ground in frustration.

Tom racked up some serious mileage when he was our coach. 

Tuesday nights in Old Belvedere Rugby Club in Dublin, Wednesday nights in UL Bohs, Limerick and Thursday nights in Galwegians, Galway. Constantly on the road delivering skills sessions to players based in those areas. 

And when the summer came and the students and teachers were off, we used to drive around to all the sessions too. 

Seeing our friends and getting the most out of Tom’s sessions. We’d finish then with a sunset swim in Salthill on a Thursday to top off the week of training.

The sessions were brilliant. High energy. Small details. 

“You have to be a genuine option” was one of his constantly repeated lines.  “Let’s go Mars. Come on Ann. Alright Ciars. Hands up Linds”. 

Tom always shortened our names to one syllable.

The preparation for that World Cup wasn’t all skills sessions and sundowners. 

Oh no! Not one of us will forget the day we have since titled Armageddon when Tom was left in charge of our conditioning session. 

“Right girls, on the line!” I’ve never heard anyone shout “Burpees” so gleefully and rhythmically like it was a line from The Auld Triangle. “Ten metre and back, 22 and back, 50 metre and back, GOOOO!” 

Again like it was a song. A never-ending song. It went on and on and on. I went to a place in my mind and body that I had never been before or since when Tom took on the role of strength and conditioning coach for a day. 

He absolutely tortured us. We hated it. And we were better for it. We became stronger that day. 

We’ll never forget that day. I was so bollocksed I came off the pitch with two styes in my eye.

We are in mourning this week as one of rugby’s biggest characters is laid to rest. 

We may spend the weekends shouting at our TV screens and getting wound up about results and performances. 

But all that really matters is that we love sport and we cherish the moments and the people it brings into our lives.

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