Irishman Hanratty thriving in Canada with Schmidt’s words in mind

EVERYONE WHO WAS at Leinster during the Schmidt years has their own story about Joe.

Jack Hanratty, now head coach of the Nova Scotia provincial team in Canada, is no different. The Skerries man worked as a development officer with Leinster for a full five years, but it was a brief conversation with Schmidt that altered his mindset.

Hanratty is head coach of the Nova Scotia men’s and women’s teams. Source: Bryan Ray

Hanratty had returned home to Ireland after an initial stint coaching in Canada, and Schmidt was eager to ensure that an employee of his province had learned from the experience.

“He said, ‘I hear you’re just back from Canada? Come into my office and see me in two minutes,’” says Hanratty. “I walked into Joe Schmidt’s office and he said, ‘What did you learn in Canada?’ I was put on the spot but told him as much as I could.

“Next he asked, ‘What did you leave behind you so they won’t need you to go back?’

“He then asked me, ‘What are three things you need to work on to become a better coach, after what you learned in Canada?’

“I don’t think I’ll forgot that.”

Hanratty is putting the sentiment into practice in his third year as head coach of the Nova Scotia ‘Keltics’, whose nickname betrays the deeply Irish way of life in the east coast province of Canada.

With regular cèilidhs in Halifax – the small city where Hanratty is based – as well as Irish music in every bar, it doesn’t feel too far from home. Still in his 20s, the Dublin native is enjoying a lifestyle that means almost every waking minute is about rugby.

Hanratty says he was “not much of a player” with Skerries RFC in his own playing days, always finding the coaching aspect of the game more interesting. He loved long mornings and afternoons and evenings down at the clubhouse in Holmpatrick.

Hanratty speaks with his team. Source: Mike Schroder

Coming from a family who have a “love affair” with the sport, Hanratty first came to work with Leinster after a setback in a different place.

He had been turned down for a spot on the rugby course at Carlow IT following an interview, but felt the decision was based on rugby playing credentials rather than potential in coaching.

After a call to David Ross, a member of the interview panel and a Leinster Rugby employee, he was asked to apply for a newly-available development officer role with the province.

So began five years in which his primary role was to develop rugby in non-rugby playing areas in the county of Fingal.

Having previously coaching at Skerries from minis levels right up to U15s, it was a challenge Hanratty embraced. There were difficult moments, but the rewarding times outweighed them.

“He gets up and says ‘I’d just like to introduce Jack, who’s a private school kid who has come in to talk about this snobby sport of rugby.’ That was doomed to fail! But we had some great successes out in Finglas.”

Hanratty was head of the Leinster summer camps for three years too, and admits he took on almost any job that needed to be done in the province.

“I became the gofer for Leinster in a way,” says Hanratty. “The head of marketing had me doing everything from radio interviews to doing Leo the Lion at one stage! I did MC at a couple of corporate gigs, but my main job was the coaching. I just loved Leinster and helping in any way I could.”

Hanratty with the Canada World Cup coaching staff. Source: Bryan Ray

Part of the development role involved working with Dublin City University, whose men’s and women’s teams he head coached to national titles at a time that Marty Moore, Collie O’Shea and Ben Woods passed through the university.

There was also involvement with Railway Union RFC, Leinster College and a number of women’s teams throughout his Leinster years.

The opportunity to get even greater coaching experience arrived when the call came from Canada in 2013 through Leinster, first with a local club side for the initial three-month stint after which Schmidt helped Hanratty shift his mindset.

Six months after that brief visit, Nova Scotia Rugby offered Hanratty the role of head coach and after some humming and hawing, he emigrated to Canada. There has barely been a backwards glance since.

The Keltics are coming off the back 0f their best season in 15 years, having beaten lauded rivals Quebec and the Newfoundland Rock. From days where six players would attend training, there are now U2o, U23 and senior men’s teams in the province, all of them enjoying successes.

“The national women’s team in Canada still pay to play for Canada, it’s crazy! I hate it obviously, but if people are paying for it they do care more.”

Hanratty’s impact in Nova Scotia has led to involvement with Rugby Canada, working with the national U17 group and also linking with the U20 team on a number of occasions.

He also coaches the Atlantic team, which is a gathering of a number of provinces, including Nova Scotia. Adding to his workload is the role of head coach of the women’s Nova Scotia provincial side.

Hanratty is loving life in Nova Scotia. Source: Jennie Fougere

There is progress being made on the ground in Canada, perhaps most importantly in relation to the education of coaches, but Hanratty looks at the World Cup squad and sees an imbalance between stars like Jamie Cudmore and the amateur home-based players.

“Here, there comes a time for people in that Paul O’Connell age group to have to stop playing, not because they can’t do it anymore, their age or their strength, but because they’ve got a safe job,” says Hanratty.

“There’s going to be Ospreys, Clermont and Scarlets players in the Canada squad this weekend and there’s going to be a coupe of people that are teachers. It’s a mad mix and that’s what affects the standard.”

The World Cup hasn’t made a major impact on the regular Canadian yet, although Hanratty says the fact that it will be shown on national TV channel TSN is a big thing. He reckons many Canadians will sit down to watch Saturday’s game, but what the nation really needs to see are big wins that capture the imagination.

The sevens teams, both women’s and men’s, have managed to achieve that and their Olympic dreams appeal to a sporting public that adores the Games.

As for himself, Hanratty has ambitions of making further progress in his coaching life, feeling that he will remain in Canada for at least two more years.

Wherever the path leads next, Hanratty is fully onboard for further rugby experiences, all the while with ambition for higher levels driving him.

“Richie Murphy would be a real inspiration for me. He started off as one of the first development officers on the ground in Leinster and is now at the World Cup as Ireland’s kicking and skills coach. That’s inspirational.”

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