The red and blue of Clontarf have punctuated the playing career of Bernard Jackman over the years and the Heineken Cup winner has returned to Castle Avenue in a new role.
The Leinster No.2 has been appointed Director of Rugby for the capital’s premier club. Clontarf will look to bring his years of experience to bear as we once again pursue the one trophy that matters most, and the one that has proved so elusive.
Club rugby may seem light years away from the upper echelons of the professional ranks but Berch, as he is more commonly known, has always been a club man. His first rugby experiences were moulded in the community ethos of local town clubs Tullow, Newbridge and Carlow. He honed his skills in the Leinster Schools competition playing for Newbridge College and as a young man out of school Lansdowne came calling.
But, it was on the opposite side of the Liffey where the Newbridge native ended up plying his trade and making his name. The wiry 19 year old hooker made an immediate impact breaking into the first team. But Berch was destined for the professional ranks and it wasn’t long before Warren Gatland and Connacht came calling.
In 1998, Jackman was selected to tour South Africa with the senior Irish squad, but had to wait until 2005 to claim his first Senior Irish cap on a tour of Japan. Since then he has gone on to win 9 Senior International caps as well as winning a Heineken Cup and a Magners League with Leinster.
As with all professional sportsmen the lows help to define the highs. Berch played 73 times for Connacht during his two spells with the province, and, although his time with Sale Sharks in the English Premiership did not turn out how he had hoped, he did manage to add a Challenge Cup medal to his CV.
Returning to Ireland, Berch decided to spurn a number of professional contract offers and return to club rugby with Clontarf. A season in the AIL, a league final appearance and the unlikely honour of being the league’s top try scorer; Jackman was reborn and a Leinster contract was in the offing.
Jackman’s career has flourished since signing for Leinster, yet he has never forgotten the important role club rugby has played in his particular journey through the professional ranks. His first foray into coaching came at his former club Newbridge and after helping them to promotion in the Leinster League, he experienced further success at the helm of Coolmine.
Yet, he was always destined to return to Castle Avenue. Over the years, Berch had maintained close ties to the club and the 1st team squad. He has been called upon from time to time to share his knowledge and experience, but now it is his job to plot the future direction of rugby at the club.
Appointed this season as Director of Rugby, Jackman is charged with putting the structures in place that will deliver that elusive AIL title so long craved by the Clontarf faithful. Jackman’s first initiative was to lead a major recruitment drive to bolster the 1st team squad which fell agonisingly short in last year’s AIL final. 18 new players were added to the senior squad with the majority of last year’s squad retained for another tilt at the title.
Simon Broughton was appointed Head Coach and pre-season officially started two weeks after the AIL final. So how does Jackman view his new role and what targets has he set for the new season?
“The players have set their goals for the season and they have set a pretty high bar for themselves. The AIL is of course the main focus for Clontarf, but we will also be targeting the Leinster Senior League and the AIL Cup.”
The new look 1st team squad has worked hard in the close season and Jackman is pleased with how the players have applied themselves following the disappointment of Thomond Park.
“The lads worked really hard in the gym over the summer months and once we got back on the pitches they transferred that enthusiasm to the training paddock. We have retained the vast majority of last year’s squad and have welcomed a lot of new faces to the club. It is an exciting time for everyone involved and I know Simon and the lads will provide the Clontarf faithful with plenty to cheer about over the course of the season.”