University College Cork alum and international rugby star Frankie Sheahan wowed US audiences this March when he shared the secrets of his success both on and off the field with high school students in Texas. Speaking at engagements in Dallas and Houston organised by Education in Ireland and the Irish Universities Association, the retired hooker, so called because the player ‘hooks’ the ball with their feet in a scrum, capped 29 times for Ireland spoke passionately about the ways that sport shaped his UCC experience and created a foundation for his career success both as an Irish international rugby player and now as a TV star.
“For me personally, the great thing about my experience at UCC was the way I could balance study and sport”, says Sheahan, a graduate of Economics and Geography who played for the UCC Rugby team right through his BA programme. “Rugby helped me study more effectively but, equally, being a full-time student made me mentally sharper on the pitch”. Sheahan also spoke about his career as a motivational speaker.
“So many of the things I act out in business today, I learned on the pitch.”
In his talks, Sheahan charted the amazing growth in popularity of rugby in Ireland in the last 20 years.
“The sports infrastructure at Irish universites is now world-class; massive investment has been made in sports facilities in recent years and American students will find themselves at home in our campuses.”
Students at St Thomas, Houston’s largest rugby school, were surprised to learn that rugby was not, in fact, Sheahan’s first sport of choice: “In UCC”, he explained, “we had the chance to try out all sports. We played Gaelic games, we played soccer, we played squash, the lot. But yes, when I discovered rugby I knew it was the one for me. It was beyond my wildest dreams to make a professional career out of a sport I loved so much.”
Keen rugby students at St Thomas were awed by Sheahan’s insights and practical tips for success. Asked if he was ever nervous before a game, Sheahan replied without hesitation: “Always. In fact I’d be nervous if I weren’t nervous! It’s part of the deal. Butterflies aren’t necessarily a bad thing… You just need to make sure that they fly in formation!”
“It’s an honour to welcome superstar Frankie Sheahan to St. Thomas”, said Brett Mills, Assistant head Coach of Varsity Rugby at St. Thomas. “I’ve been following him for years and he’s one of my great sporting heroes in the whole world – he’s incredible. Two of my sons play rugby here at St Thomas and they just loved listening to him today. He’s a really cool guy with lots of interesting things to say, not just about rugby but about so many other things too- we’re so glad he made it to Houston and we’re all going to make it to Cork soon”.
Joining Sheahan on the Texan circuit were representatives of international offices at Irish universities, including Louise Tobin, Director of International Student Recruitment and Strategy at UCC, Sheahan’s alma mater. “At UCC, we’re really proud of Frankie Sheahan. It is wonderful to be here in the US to witness the welcome that he has received from his Texan fans. All Irish universities are interested in attracting more American students to undergraduate programmes and reaching students through sport is become a powerful marketing tool for us.” Tobin continued, “Frankie is a terrific role model for young students who wish to combine their studies with exciting sports opportunities. His good-humoured anecdotes about university life really went down well here in Texas. He’s the perfect poster boy for UCC and he’s sure to have influenced some of the students we’ve met this week. They now know that by going to UCC they can access a great education as well as availing of world-class coaching and facilities.”
Leaving Texas, Sheahan travelled on to Rome to act as co-commentator on the Six Nations Championship game of Italy versus France. The Irish universities concluded their promotional campaign in the US with a Student Fair in NY as well as a breakfast for high school counselors and principals.