John Sexton

A wonderful piece taken from Leinsters MatchDay Programme on Clon Legend and our first internationally capped player John Sexton. 

Clondalkin Rugby Club was formed in 1973 and from the beginning my family have been heavily involved in the club. My dad, Jim, was an early member and helped create the juvenile section of the club and my five brothers and I all played for the club.

My earliest memories were playing U-13/14 games organised by Pat Kelly, a teacher in Moyle Park College where most of our players went to school. It got more formalised when I was U-15 and we regularly played against Palmerstown, Malahide, Barnhall, Suttonians and Clontarf. I remember captaining the U-15s versus Clontarf to celebrate the opening of the clubhouse in Kingswood.

As a 17-year-old in sixth year, I was busy captaining our GAA and soccer teams and studying for the Leaving Cert but found time to play on the wing for the Clondalkin First Team (J3), alongside the likes of Brendan Coady, Brendan Fitzsimons, Eddie Farrell and captain John Kennedy.

In 1981, going to play rugby in Trinity from a non-rugby school background was fairly rare and intimidating as everyone appeared to know each other from schools rugby. However, I quickly progressed through the U-19 trial matches and secured my place on the team. On my return to second year, I had ambitions to secure my place on the seconds (J1), however I was selected to play for the first team against St Mary’s for the opening game.

It was a memorable occasion in College Park where I was marking Irish international Terry Kennedy. Although we lost 41-3, there was great excitement in the Sexton household. At the time, my dad was President of Clondalkin RFC so it was a busy year of rugby!

While I didn’t get my ‘Colours’ that year, I solidified my place on the team after Christmas and retained it until I left college in 1988. I was lucky to play with some tremendous players and at one stage our backline of Paul Clinch, Brendan Mullin, Fergus Dunlea and myself was also the Leinster backline.

I had the honour of captaining DUFC in 1986-87 and although I missed the Colours game through injury, we won the Dudley Cup and were narrowly beaten by Lansdowne in the Leinster League final.

Meanwhile in Clondalkin, my dad was President again, continuing his heavy involvement while in tandem supporting my career. In my final season in Trinity, we unfortunately lost the Leinster Senior Cup final to Blackrock. However, it was notable as I was selected to play against England in the ‘Millennium’ match to win my first cap.

I presented my jersey and my opposite man’s jersey (Rory Underwood) to Clondalkin to mark the occasion of my first cap and the role the club played in nurturing my interest and talent. At the end of that season, a second-string Irish team toured France and though we were earmarked to play provincial teams, we ended up playing two games against France. In the first game in Auch, we won 18-17 in one of the most memorable games I have ever played (the French team included the likes of Lafond, Sella and Lagisquet) while we lost the re- match in L’Orient 12-7.

Later that year, I played against Western Samoa and Italy and scored my first points for Ireland with a try and a drop goal against Samoa – the drop goal was particularly memorable as it was the only drop goal I scored throughout my career!

In 1989, I played against France in the Five Nations and while we led 21-7 at one stage, we ended up losing 21-24. My man Lagisquet scored two tries and I was dropped for the next game.

Later that year, I toured the US and Canada winning both tests (I scored a last-minute try, from the half-way line, to prevent Canada beating their first Tier One team).

Controversially, these games were not capped despite being a full-strength Irish team and Ireland previously awarding caps against Canada in the 1987 World Cup.

Injury struck soon after our return in an interpro against Munster, however, I was fit enough to line out for Leinster against the All Blacks in November ‘89. I scored a try that day which turned out to be the only try scored against them on the island of Ireland!

I was selected in November 1990 to earn my fifth cap against Argentina but I broke my hand the week before in a game against Shannon. Although I remained in the squad for another couple of years, that was the end of my international career.

At this stage, I had moved to Lansdowne where many of my teammates from Trinity had gone. We had a very good team and won the Leinster Senior Cup in ’89 and ’91. In 1993-94, I had the honour to captain Lansdowne following in the footsteps of many other Trinity graduates who captained Lansdowne, including Donal Spring, Mark Ryan, Greg Dilger and Paul Clinch.

Reflecting on my career, playing for DUFC in College Park with great players and a great coach is probably the most memorable part and it was great to receive my first cap while there. Our coach Roly Meates was a huge influence on my development and progression. However, he was also a massive influence on me as a person and how effective a ‘coaching’ approach can be in life. Ultimately rugby is about the lifelong friendships you make across the clubs and representative teams you play for and compete against.

During my career, my dad continued to be heavily involved in Clondalkin as fixture secretary, committee member and ultimately a stalwart supporter – he is only one of three members to receive the ‘President’s Award’ for services to the club.

As the club’s oldest living member he is looking forward to watching games again in September ’21! My brother Paul (Dudge) continued to play for the club and was captain in 1997-98 and was on the team that won the club’s highest honour, the Spencer Cup, in 2006.

Many other honours have followed since such that Clondalkin RFC is now an established and formidable participant on the Metropolitan and Leinster Junior club match calendar, with encouragement and support from the Leinster Branch and even more recently by New Zealand born Ireland International, James Lowe, who adopted Clondalkin RFC in 2019 as his home club in support of Clondalkin RFC’s youth teams.

Clondalkin has come a long way since my involvement all those years ago and as it approaches its 50-year anniversary it is clear that Clondalkin Rugby is on an upward trajectory while at the same time still remaining a place where lifelong friendships are being formed and strengthened among the new generations involved in the club.

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