When Jake Lawlor left New Zealand on his 20th birthday, he embarked on a journey inspired by a childhood of stories about Ireland and rugby in Roscrea.
The very first impression that you get of Jake is his warm and friendly demeanor. He could be considered your quintessential Kiwi, very chatty, always direct and constantly engaging.
In his first season playing for the Roscrea RFC senior team he quickly established himself as a vital component in John Maher’s league winning side.
Always the team player, unselfish, brave, positive in attack and relentlessly astute in defence, Jake is one of those rare players who has an uncanny ability to consistently make the correct decisions on the pitch in the heat of battle.
This can only be the result of his upbringing within a culture that sees Rugby as a way of life. However, as good as his performances have been, his story is far more interesting.
Born and raised over 19000km away in the town of Gore, situated at the bottom of the world on New Zealand’s south island, a young Jake was regaled with endless stories of adventures in Ireland by his father Morgan Horrell who with family friend Jerry Miller had both visited and worked in Ireland in the early 2000's, both playing rugby for Roscrea while becoming close friends with club stalwarts the Maher family.
Over time, an enduring friendship developed between the Horrells and Mahers.
It was in 2009 at his parents wedding that a young Jake met members of the Maher clan who had made the long journey to New Zealand as special guests at the celebration.
Hence, it is no surprise that Jake's very first rugby jersey was a treasured Munster one and as such his destiny was probably inadvertently set.
After finishing in St Peters secondary school, he started and completed 2twoyears of a carpentry apprenticeship. However, the lure of Ireland and the prospect of adventure was impossible to resist.
On the day of his 20th birthday he said goodbye to his friends and family, packing his bags, his boots and his Munster jersey and set off to add another chapter to the Horrell-Maher story.
Having played schools rugby from an early age and subsequently representing his local district team the Eastern Northern Barbarians, Jake arrived at Roscrea RFC with a fair amount of rugby pedigree. He cites All Blacks legend Dan Carter as his favorite player, pointing to his finesse, vision, composure, and his humility off the pitch as truly inspiring.
The choice is not surprising as Jake like Dan Carter has played the majority of Rugby at Out half although he freely admits that his preferred position is inside centre.
However, always the team player, he is very keen to point out that he would be happy to play any where that his coach John Maher feels is required.
On arriving at Roscrea RFC, Jake was scheduled to make his debut in the home tie against Portarlington RFC in late 2019. However, he didn’t make registration in time and subsequently started his first game away against Swords RFC the following weekend.
He jokingly admits that his very first contribution was to kick the ball out on the full as his early eagerness got the better of him. He soon got the hang of it, starting all the remaining league games of the season, never finishing on the losing side. He scored his debut Roscrea try against Balbriggan RFC in the first-round victory of the towns cup, a fantastic finish to a super team try which exemplified a wonderful performance against a team 2 divisions above.
Sadly, the onset of Covid 19 meant that the potential cup adventure was not to be as the season ended abruptly and prematurely. When contemplating the moments that most influenced the eventual outcome of the league winning season.
Jake points to the last 10 minutes away to Portarlignton RFC, a winner takes all game where both teams went to war fighting for every yard. He describes the final defensive effort in great detail, still fresh and clear in the memory, the relentless defiance of the players as they battled shoulder to shoulder until the final whistle, never faltering in their belief and committed to what had to be done.
“The joy, the relief, the glory, that’s the moment when you feel truly alive!” explains Jake.
When pushed to describe the differences between amateur Rugby in New Zealand and Ireland, Jake explains that there are some subtle ones. He feels the conditions in Ireland definitely make games more attritional, he also mentions that because some players also play hurling and football from a young age, this definitely adds a unique aspect to their skillset.
He also thinks the knock out cup system makes for great competitions, giving lower league teams a rare opportunity to beat higher ranked opposition.
What has most impressed him about Roscrea RFC is the passion of the players and their dedicated fans, how they all interact and how the club has a real family feel to it. He uses the example of the Club Children’s Christmas party where Santa arrived in a Helicopter and was driven around in a garda car as something you probably won’t see anywhere else!
With the new season fast approaching and the club navigating the current Covid return to play guidelines, Jake is looking forward to getting back to preseason training.
Indeed, never one to turn down a genuine opportunity of adventure, he is about to become the first New Zealander to try his hand at Junior B hurling at Brackens GAA club.
We are sure that this seasons exploits will be just as satisfying and exhilarating as last years and that eventually Jake will have his own stories of adventures in Ireland and Roscrea RFC to someday regale his children with!
For someone so young, Jake Lawlor has already achieved so much and although over 19,000km away from home the transition and move to Ireland has been seamless.
He feels truly humbled by the sincerity of the welcome he has received from the club and supporters and feels a deep pride every time he wears the Maroon jersey onto the pitch.
In particular, he would like to pay special tribute to John, Malachy and the Maher family, who have been amazing in helping him follow his dreams, he will be eternally grateful for their kindness and is proud to be part of a new chapter in a longstanding family friendship.