“No-one knew what league was” – Irish prodigy Ronan Michael on spreading rugby league gospel in his hometown

Ireland international Ronan Michael barely knew what rugby league was four years ago but now he is on the verge of playing in a World Cup.

The 20-year-old prop only started playing rugby league in 2017 and was offered a trial with Super League club Huddersfield after just eight games of playing amateur rugby league with Longhorns in Ireland.

Michael’s trial with the Giants was a huge success, and he hasn’t looked back since. He made his international debut for Ireland in 2018 and then made his Super League debut for Huddersfield in 2020 after spending time in Australia with Canberra Raiders.

The promising prop forward is now helping spread the word of rugby league in his hometown of Balbriggan.

He told Love Rugby League: “I didn’t think I’d be making my Super League debut for Huddersfield two years after I got off the plane but that was just a moment I couldn’t describe. It was definitely surprising.

“When you go home, you go on your phone and see all your mates watching back in Balbriggan in Ireland, where no-one knew what league was before then.

“No-one would have heard of it where I’m from and then you see loads of people commenting saying ‘this is a local lad’ – that’s just surreal. You can’t really describe having people from your local town speaking about something that’s never been spoken about before.

“It is something nobody has ever heard of before and now you hear small conversations about it. I’m sure if you went to Balbriggan now and mention rugby league – more likely than not – you will have someone say they’ve heard of that before, and that’s the greatest thing for me.

“Someone might say they’ve heard of the sport before whereas before when I took it up, I didn’t even know it was played in Ireland. I just thought it was an Aussie sport, I didn’t even know it was played in England, I just knew the NRL and that was about it but then when you get involved you learn more about it so the biggest thing for me is raising awareness about it.

“I just want to raise awareness and get a few more heads turned and more people being like ‘yeah, rugby league exists in Ireland’ and hopefully a few more players will try league.”

 

Michael has already won five caps for Ireland and helped his country qualify for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, which takes place in England this autumn.

The rising star hopes to be selected in Stuart Littler’s squad at the end of the year, with the prospect of representing his nation in a World Cup giving him butterflies.

He said: “I think every single person has asked me how many free tickets I can get!

“One of my biggest goals this year is to try and get myself a spot to play in the World Cup.

“When I was in camp with Ireland and heard stories from the likes of Tyrone McCarthy about previous World Cups I was just like ‘oh my god, this sounds unbelievable’ and the passion they speak about it with is class.

“Even though I’ve only played in the World Cup qualifier, that still was a hugely proud moment for me and to actually get to play in the World Cup just sounds so mad.

READ: Ireland international Ronan Michael on his wish to see a professional rugby league team in Dublin

“Even when I got to make my Ireland debut I had only played like five academy games for Huddersfield. It was just something that I couldn’t believe but once that happens you are onto the next and want to play more.

“My short-term goals are to be the best player I can be today and just to keep trying to better myself every single day while I’m with Huddersfield. Long-term, I want to show what I’m about and that there is potential in Ireland and represent my country well but more personally, to show myself that I can do this and chase my dream and be a professional athlete at the top level.

“Obviously for me now, the nearest goal in terms of an international stage is that World Cup and that’s something that I want to make sure I’m in a good place for.”

Ireland have been drawn in a group alongside Jamaica, Lebanon and Jamaica for this year’s World Cup.

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