Ireland-Australia connection goes beyond Wallabies for Henshaw

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

It’s not unusual to see Irish connections in the AFL, but it’s not normally a Test rugby player that proves the link.

That’s exactly the case, though, when it comes to Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw and lifelong friend Ray Connellan, who working his way towards an Aussie Rules career with St Kilda.

Henshaw and Connellan grew up in the same Irish town, Coosan, before going onto professional sporting careers.

When Gaelic footballer Connellan contemplated a move to Australia, Henshaw took his longtime friend to Athlone rugby club to help him learn how to handle an oval ball again.

“He did actually. A few times we just went down to our local oval at home, Athlone rugby club and just went kicking like nothing too serious but just familiarise yourself with the ball, have a mess around,” he said.

“The few times we went down and had some kicking sessions, maybe do a quick run after just to blow the legs out as well but he definitely helped a bit, with where you put your hands on the ball if you're kicking it, stuff like that.

“So, a bit of a help for me before I came back over.”

Robbie Henshaw in action for Leinster. Photo: Getty ImagesBefore Henshaw turned his focus to rugby, the pair played Gaelic footballer together and against each other as kids.

“Growing up, we initially played on opposing Gaelic football teams. In my town there were two teams and they were a pretty big rivalry and he was on one, I was on the other,” he said.

“But then, with a lot of his schoolmates playing with my team, he ended up getting a transfer across.

“There was a bit of arguments about that in his club but he came across and he saw sense and came and joined us for a couple of years before he really got into the rugby full on.”

Their families are still friends, with Connellan travelling to Dunedin to watch Henshaw play for the Lions, and the pair panning to hang out once this series is over.

“Our families are still very close,” he said.

“ His parents are going to arrive out here next week, going to follow him out and then I think he's planning on spending another week staying with me here as soon as the tour's finished," he said.

"Luckily I get a bye weekend for the Sydney game, so I possibly might head up to Sydney and spend a few days up there and catch up with him and his parents and just chill out for the week after.”

The Wallabies take on Ireland in the June Series, kicking off on Saturday June 9 at Suncorp Stadium, at 8pm AEST. Buy tickets here.