Banbridge RFC man Clark caps an unlikely road to international rugby

Clark McAllister along with his proud family and friends, who went to watch his Ireland debut last weekend.
Clark McAllister along with his proud family and friends, who went to watch his Ireland debut last weekend.

At the start of the summer, Clark McAllister never imagined he would have an Ireland cap in his hands.

But that’s exactly what he has after his starring role for rugby league side the Irish Wolfhounds in their 34-0 trouncing of Belgium on Sunday.

Clark McAllister shows off his Ireland cap.

Clark McAllister shows off his Ireland cap.

The Banbridge RFC player scored a try and impressed onlookers with his overall performance - even if he isn’t exactly an old hand at rugby league.

So how then did Clark end up as Ireland’s star man?

The journey began as a summer fitness schedule that soon took on an altogether different look for the local 23 year-old.

“I played the season at Banbridge and then my old PE teacher from Banbridge High School Mark Parker asked me to go along to Portadown to play for their rugby league team,” he explained’

“I decided to go down over the summer for a bit of fun and to get some fitness going before pre-season begun back at the club.”

After playing just TWO matches for his club side, it seemed that Clark had a natural flair for the alternative code.

“Only a few players from each club were chosen to go forward for selection to the Ireland side,” he said.

“I was put forward and we went down for a training day last Sunday. Then the 22 man squad was picked from there.

“The funny thing was that I had only played rugby league twice before all of this.

“There were 50 players down to that first session and they said a lot of us would be disappointed because it was going to be so tough to pick a final squad.

“It was a long wait then until Tuesday evening when the squad was picked and once I had got that far, we learned the match-day squad would be cut down to 17 so I had to wait for that as well.

“We went down on Saturday to train and then the coach announced the starting team. When I heard my name I nearly dunged myself!”

After getting himself under control, McAllister shone at the Carlisle Grounds in Bray, even touching down a well-taken score in front of his watching friends and family.

He said: “It was good fun. I made all my tackles and even got a good try. I could have had another but I was hit with a hard tackle as I tried to get over the line.

“We were a lot better than Belgium and could have won by even more but it was great to be a part of. By the end of the weekend, it felt like we had all been playing with each other for a lot longer than just a week.

“It went really well and I’m looking forward to the next couple of matches.”

Although he wasn’t playing for Ireland’s full first choice team, it counts as a full international cap with two more to come against Serbia and Malta in September.

Clark said: “There is a team that includes players coming over from the Super League who qualify to play for Ireland but this was a team made up totally of locally based players

“It’s not a big sport in Ireland and there aren’t many rugby league teams.

“Portadown, Ballynahinch, Belfast Met and North Antrim all have teams that play during the summer but those could be the only four teams in the north.”

The whole journey came as a bit of a surprise to the Banbridge man, who was particularly pleased to get an unexpected cap ahead of his more likely best mate,

He said: “I never dreamt of playing for Ireland at all. One of my best friends, Jonny Murphy plays at the Ulster Academy so I’ve had a good laugh with him telling him that I’ve got an Ireland cap before him.”

While McAllister awaits his next foray into international rugby later in the year, it’s back to porridge and pre-season at Banbridge RFC.

And he knows this year, he’ll have to take some extra flak from his team-mates:

“The boys are going to take the hand out of me now when I get back to training. I can already hear them calling me an international superstar!”

On Sunday though, that’s exactly what he was, as unlikely as it all may have seemed just a few weeks ago.