Exclusive: New Bradford Bulls coach Eamon O’Carroll wants to help put Championship big-hitters ‘back on the map’ with new era underway

Aaron Bower
Eamon O'Carroll Bradford Bulls Alamy

Bradford Bulls' new head coach Eamon O'Carroll - Alamy

He may well be one of the youngest head coaches the professional game has seen for some time, but Eamon O’Carroll’s journey to the Bradford Bulls job has been years in the making.

At just 36, there is only Sam Burgess at Warrington who is younger than the man tasked with building on a promising 2023 for the Bulls.

But O’Carroll’s coaching career began even before his premature retirement at the age of 30 when he started working with Hull FC‘s academy.

He then spent a year working under Denis Betts after retiring, helping Widnes‘ academy before the call came which transformed his life: the opportunity to hone his craft in the south of France.

Catalans had just won a Challenge Cup, they’d just signed Sam Tomkins – so they were on the up,” O’Carroll tells Love Rugby League.

“As soon as I met Steve (McNamara), we clicked straight away and I knew I wanted to go and challenge myself there.

“I was coaching players I’d played against, which was a test but there wasn’t a day when I didn’t learn something.

“It wasn’t particularly easy but the amount of guidance he’s put into me has really shaped me.

He’s the reason I went back after Newcastle and each time I’ve gone there I’ve come out of it better as a person and a coach.”

How Catalans Dragons boss Steve McNamara helped shape Eamon O’Carroll as a coach

Steve McNamara Catalans Dragons Alamy Catalans Dragons head coach Steve McNamara – Alamy

O’Carroll has had two stints as McNamara’s assistant at Catalans, sandwiched either side of a spell as head coach of Newcastle Thunder.

But it is now, as head coach of Bradford, which is being viewed as his big break in the coaching game – one he didn’t think would materialise so soon until he was alerted to the fact the Bulls were interested in speaking to him about taking the reins for 2024.

His formative years at Catalans – shaped heavily around the influence of McNamara – have, in his opinion, steeled him for the challenge that lies ahead.

And that challenge is not an insignificant one. Bradford are coming off the back of their most successful season in almost a decade; a third-placed finish in the Championship and progression to the semi-finals of the play-offs, where they were beaten in France by Toulouse.

O’Carroll admits that prior success adds pressure to his shoulders as he aims to take the Bulls at least one step further, but insists he is enthused about the prospect of a long-term plan at Odsal on and off the field – which could end in elevation to Super League under IMG’s stewardship of the sport.

“It’s an exciting challenge,” he insists. “Everyone still has that affiliation with Bradford that it can get somewhere and develop.

“When I spoke to Jason (Hirst, CEO), his enthusiasm and passion about the club was incredible. I knew it wasn’t just words too; he wants to back it up with action.

“I’ve always kept my eye on the Championship through coaching and watching players and always felt there was something special about this place.

“Steve has a big affinity with the place too, he spoke passionately about the people, and it’s a great opportunity for me and the club.

“The club has some freshness about it, the roster is good with ability to add to it and the support you get here as a head coach in terms of staffing and volunteers is magnificent.

“Jason told me there was a plan and they wanted someone to build with them: that was what I wanted too. Success doesn’t happen overnight; we’ll have good days and bad days and we’ll have challenges, but we’ll stick together and learn together.”

Bradford Bulls well-placed for Super League return following IMG gradings

The Bulls are well-placed to get a Super League spot in the years ahead following the provisional IMG rankings, and the consensus from many within the sport is that with lifelong Bulls fan and Bradfordian Hirst as CEO, they are more stable than they have been for some time given the years of lurching from one crisis to the next.

With their core playing squad retained for 2024 and the Bulls being tipped to be among the contenders again, O’Carroll is adamant that while he will bring the methods that have shaped him at Catalans to his time at Odsal, he has no intent of ripping things up.

“I spoke in my interview and with Brian Noble about how important it was for me to come in and know there were already some good things happening, so for me to tear it up would be ridiculous,” he says.

“I have no ego whatsoever in that regard; I have my ideas but they’re always discussed with the coaching team and they’ve got some great ideas too.

“I’m fully on board with what they’re already bringing to the table – and everyone cares about this club being a success at the end of the day. It’s good they had some success last year because we can look at what we did well at the back end of the year and build on that.”

Some believe that the Bulls could be a Super League club again as early as 2025, but O’Carroll is hesitant to get carried away.

“Whether we go into Super League or not, that’s ultimately out of my hands,” he continued. “But my players and me as a coach, we need to perform.

“I know the club are trying to get better off the field but I’m just trying to focus on being competitive week in, week out.

“My job is performance – whatever the situation is off the field, it doesn’t stop us as a group wanting to achieve success.”

O’Carroll determined to help put Bulls ‘back on the map’: ‘We won’t shy away from that’

But one thing that is high on the new Bradford coach’s agenda is strengthening the bond between everyone associated with the club.

An entirely part-time operation in 2024, the Bulls are – like so many other clubs – reliant on an army of volunteers, and O’Carroll will stress the importance of representing those who give up their time for free and, in his own words, put the club ‘back on the map’.

“We’ve spoke about the history of the jersey and who they’re representing because there’s a lot of people who’ve sacrificed a lot for this club,” he says.

“We have a unique opportunity to put us back on the map, so to speak. We won’t shy away from that.

“I was shocked seeing the community feel to this club. Every time I go to Odsal, there’s a running joke that I shook the media guy’s hand three times in the same day because I’d seen that many people helping out doing jobs! Every time I go there, there’s someone behind the scenes who plays a huge part that I’ve not met.

“I want the players to understand the amount of support we’ve got from volunteers, and from people who are giving their time up to make this club a better place. I won’t let them forget that. That has to be at the heart of everything we’re about as a club from top to bottom. With that spirit behind us, we can do something really special – I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that.”

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