This week we profile Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ backrower Conor Canny.
Height: 6ft 2ins/ 188cm
Weight: 107kgs / 16st 8lbs
Position: Number 8/ Blindside flanker
Birthplace: Barking, Essex
Years in UAE: One
Honours: Irish Exiles U-18-U-20’s
Favourite childhood memory of rugby: Playing school rugby on waterlogged pitches all year round. It may sounds horrendous but they will always be fond memories of mine.
Favourite player growing up: Ronan O’Gara
Rugby team you support: Munster
Best international at the moment and why: Kieran Read – his ball carrying and ability to offload are unreal.
Rule you would change: I would change the points structure, reducing the points awarded for penalties to put more emphasis on scoring tries and a more open, expansive style of rugby.
Best game you ever saw: Ireland v England live at Croke Park in the 2007 Six Nations. I’ve never experienced an atmosphere like that at any other rugby game.
Toughest opponent in UAE (team or player): I enjoy the rivalry between the Quins and the Exiles. As for individuals I’m glad I’m on the same team as Willie Umu.
Most embarrassing moment in your UAE career: I had a bit of a howler against Hurricanes last season. It was my first start for the Quins so I was probably a little over-eager to impress, I made a huge shout to claim the first kick-off, leapt up to catch it only to take it square in the face, I’m pretty sure the ball ended up in their dead ball area and the lads constantly give me stick for it.
If you could be a professional in any other sport what it would be and why?: Golf. Getting paid to travel around the world playing golf sounds like a pretty sweet gig.
Favourite meal: Seafood Paella.
Favourite place in the UAE: Regrettably, McGettigans.
Shane Fowley looked like a natural when he scored 14 points on the opening day of the UAE Conference rugby season – but the truth is the Irishman is more renowned for his ability as a footballer and gaelic footballer.
In fact, the 29-year-old full-back hadn’t fully learned all of rugby’s rules until last season – yet he still managed to help his side claim glory as they beat Jebel Ali Dragons 2nds to win the Confernece final.
An epic game ended with a last-minute try for Wanderers that saw them claim a dramatic 27-26 win in a game in which they had largely been second best.
Lifting the trophy meant Fowley claimed a unique individual season treble as he’d also won the league with his gaelic football side Dubai Celts and with his football team Dubai Irish too.
Fowley, from the village of Leitrim in Ireland, only started playing rugby for Sharjah by chance as they were short of players, but he admits he’s grown to love the game, even if he still has to juggle it with his first two loves.
“I’ve been at Sharjah three seasons but I only filled in for them because they were stuck,” said Fowley.
“Back then they were in bad old shape and they knew me from playing sevens through another connection, so I ended up playing with them. I’m actually more of a Gaelic football player or soccer player. I play both of them, but they cornered me into playing rugby.”
Although he’s a natural athlete so adjusting to rugby wasn’t completely alien to him, Fowley admits there were some teething problems – even last term.
“I’d never played before so I was still learning the rules even up until last season. I know most of them now,” he said.
“There was one incident last year where, in Gaelic, I’d usually solo (in gaelic football a player must bounce or ‘solo’ the ball every four steps) the ball.
“We had a penalty and I took a tap and all the opposition players started running at me and I was like ‘woah, woah, woah, what’s going on here?’, so that’s the Gaelic background coming in, and I think the kicking just comes through the Gaelic background.
Sharjah team-mate Isaac Porter also has a Gaelic background and Fowley admits a main reason why he’s still at Wanderers is that the club are sympathetic to his desire to play for Celts and irish.
“I do still play a bit of Gaelic – it takes a bit of balancing, but it’s pretty good because the tournaments are only once a month so Nic (Walters, Sharjah head coach) and the boys are pretty good with me, and the Gaelic training is just as hard as rugby, if not harder.
“They just tell me fill in and ‘kick it as hard as you can’ when I get it and I’ve enjoyed playing rugby.”
Great session last night! Almost 50 boys down... Record for the Wandies! pic.twitter.com/FZ6rfUqUm9— SharjahWanderersRFC (@SharjahRugby) August 31, 2016
Fowley is so immersed in all forms of football, that when Wanderers played Jebel Ali Dragons in a pre-season friendly a week before the Conference season kicked off, he had no idea why there was such a fuss made about their new head coach – Henry Paul.
He might be a universally recognised star in all three codes of rugby, but that meant little to Fowley, who’d barely heard of him as Sharjah were brushed aside 72-12 by the UAE Premiership juggernauts.
“I actually barely know of this Henry Paul lad, but I’ve heard the lads at the club chatting about him,” admitted Fowley.
“I’m not a huge rugby league fan so I wouldn’t really know who he is. I genuinely didn’t know who he was. We played Dragons the other day and Kiwi Dave (Sharjah’s New Zealand scrum-half Dave Ermerins) said ‘that’s Henry Paul’, and I was like ‘who the hell is he?’.”
Folwey quipped: “The question is has he heard of me?”
With Paul on board at Dragons and sweeping changes afoot, Fowley expects the team that pushed Wanderers all the way last season might be even better this season.
Sharjah and Dragons 2nds met in the Conference final in March, with Wanderers coming out on top 27-26 in a thrilling game that was fit to have graced any final.
It was Dragons who made the only dent on Sharjah’s unbeaten season – the two sides drew 20-20 in October during the regular season.
Fowley expects them to come back stronger as well as a host of other clubs.
“We played Dragons 1sts and they were awesome, so we can only imagine that’s going to funnel down into their twos,” he said.
“Perhaps a few of their (Dragons) first team lads will be dropping down. It was 20-20 last year and then 27-26 in the final so there’s nothing between us, and other teams will be good too, like Dubai Hurricanes, Dubai Exiles, Abu Dhabi Harlequins will be up there too.
“We beat them (Quins) last year and that was probably our best result as they were unbeaten at the time. It’s great there’s so many good teams there.”
As for defending the Conference title, Fowley and Sharjah are just setting their sights on qualifying for the Conference Top 6 stage first and foremost.
“The first thing was getting started, get the first win,” he said. “There’s lots of new players so there could be a lot of rotating. It’s just about getting in the Top 6 for us as a lot of teams will be improved.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work in pre-season so it’s good to get the first win. It’s not about bonus points for us it’s just about making the Top 6. As champions all the other sides will be looking for us so it’s good to get a first win.”
The last time Quins tasted defeat at Zayed Sports City was the 10-6 loss in the opening game of the2015 Gulf Top Six competition against Abu Dhabi Saracens.
In the 625 days that have passed since then, Quins have made their home impenetrable.
Dubai Exiles have come close to ending that run. Friday’s 25-18 victory for Quins close, but not quite as close as 12 months earlier when they led only for Barry Dwyer’s last-gasp try to give McFarlane’s men a 22-18 triumph.
Since losing to Canes, McFarlane has come in as Jeremy Manning’s successor, and he described the entire atmosphere surrounding the club as special.
“It’s a fortress,” he said of Zayed Sports City.
“The boys love being at home and getting a crowd like that. They’re really vocal and they get behind the boys.
“There’s a great atmosphere in the clubhouse afterwards too. We are one club. We’ve got the girls team there supporting us, the baa baas, the second team, lads not selected, the lads who were injured wanted to run water, everybody wants to be involved and everyone pulls together, that’s what makes us special.”