Workington hooker Dec O’Donnell believes Ireland are a sleeping giant in rugby league, with the sport starting to flourish on the island.
The 23-year-old has won four caps for his beloved Ireland since making his international debut in 2018.
O’Donnell recently attended an Ireland training camp under new head coach Ged Corcoran as the Wolfhounds ramp up their preparations for the World Cup later this year.
“It is always good when you get invited into camp and it is something you don’t take for granted,” a proud O’Donnell told Love Rugby League. “It’s always in my mind that I want to be pulling a green jersey on again.
“It was at Hopwood Hall in Rochdale. I think there were around 26 lads from Super League, Championship and a couple of League 1. When it’s time to submit the squad there’ll be a few names in there that people will be shocked at. When we were getting told we were like ‘wow’.”
— Dec O'Donnell (@decod123) November 11, 2019
Dec O’Donnell: Rugby league getting noticed in Ireland now
O’Donnell was born and raised in Wigan but qualifies to represent Ireland through his family, who hail from County Meath.
The Wigan academy product recently made a visit to a primary school in Loughshinny in the Northern County of Dublin. He was taken aback when everyone knew who he was when he walked in.
“I did a bit of work with some of Rugby League Ireland’s sponsors who pump a bit of money in and do a lot of work behind the scenes that probably go a bit unnoticed,” O’Donnell explained.
“I went to a primary school in Loughshinny and spent a few hours with the kids there. It is good to get into the community, it’s something I enjoy doing.
“It was a pretty surprising trip to be honest. I went to this little pocket in the north of Dublin and they know about rugby league and they know the players who play for Rugby League Ireland.
“The game is getting more known”
“There are people walking around the streets wearing Parramatta shirts and stuff. It isn’t a historic rugby league town, but the game is getting more known now, definitely.
“The school I went to is the only school in the whole of Ireland that has rugby league taught in it. It was a little tiny place, but they genuinely know about rugby league.
“I went in and they were calling me by my first name and stuff. They didn’t actually know I was going in so it was a surprise for them. The headmaster knew me, the kids were on first name terms with me and it is just good to see. I enjoyed it.”
Ireland are drawn in a group alongside New Zealand, Lebanon and Jamaica at this year’s World Cup. The Wolfhounds will hope to go one better than they did in the 2017 World Cup by making it out of the groups.