Ireland star Dec O’Donnell explains why the heritage rule is important in rugby league

Drew Darbyshire

You will struggle to find many people prouder to represent their family roots than Ireland international Dec O’Donnell.

The 21-year-old was born and raised in Wigan, England, but qualifies to represent Ireland on the international stage due to his grandfather and grandmother being from the island.

O’Donnell came through the ranks at hometown club Wigan before enjoying a spell at Leigh and now Workington, where he has become a first-team regular.

The hooker has earned three caps for Ireland so far, playing a starring role in their World Cup qualifiers last year.

He said: “My grandad is from Meath and my nana was from Sligo, I’ve got an Irish passport and I can’t describe to you how proud I am of my heritage.

“My brother (John) plays for Ireland in Rugby Sevens as well so he’s based in Dublin now. We are both really proud to play for Ireland, what the country holds and what it means to play for them.”

There isn’t a big pot of money for Rugby League Ireland compared to England Rugby League – but O’Donnell believes the new board are doing good things.

He said: “There’s some real good stuff going on in Ireland with regards to rugby league that people don’t really know about.

“Proud is the right word to describe us. It’s humbling to play for the country and it’s an honour to be a part of the country and hopefully we can make some history over there.”

The Rugby League World Cup will be staged in England in the autumn of 2021, and O’Donnell is licking his lips at the opportunity of creating history for Ireland.

The Wolfhounds have been drawn against New Zealand, Jamaica and Lebanon in the group stages.

He continued: “We had a good World Cup campaign in 2017 then we went straight into the World Cup qualifiers in 2019 so we are taking steady steps in to 2021.

“We are like a band of brothers at Ireland and it’s like we’ve got a little family there.

“Every time we each other it is like we’ve never left each other and that’s the way you want it because everyone is there for the same reason, whether it be families and qualifying through heritage or the lads who are based in Ireland.

“We are all buying in to the same thing and we all want to be a part of something special for Ireland.”

And just before we finish the interview, O’Donnell cheekily adds: “Hopefully we can get the rub of the green at the World Cup.”

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