By Haden Tye
Eoghan Grace has returned to Brickfields to help Kieran Hallett’s side succeed not only on the field, but also off it – and he is excited for what the future brings for Albion.
As well as being a player, the 29-year-old will be working to strengthen Albion’s involvement in the community. After time away from the club at Ealing and Coventry, Eoghan returns to an Albion side that look to be in a strong position coming into the new season.
The Irish flanker jumped at the opportunity to come back to the club after his first spell provided many good memories. Eoghan was Albion’s Player of the Year in his final season at the club and enjoyed his time at Brickfields.
“I was [at Albion] three seasons ago,” said Eoghan. “I went to Ealing and then Coventry last season. The season before Ealing was my second season at Plymouth. So I was there two years in the Championship when they were up and then we got relegated the second year and things went a bit skew ways at the club. To be honest I was really keen to stay on and I actually thought I was staying on for a long time but one thing led to another and it didn’t happen and I ended up moving and going to London.”
Eoghan still reflects positively on his time at Brickfields and says the memories he made at the club made him want to come back.
“Really good memories,” said Eoghan of his time at Albion. “It’s the reason I am back. I can’t get away from the place I suppose. We had a good community; we had a good group bond at the time I was there. We had a lot of Irish lads which helped. There were seven Irish lads the first year I was there and then a few of them went their separate ways.
“The first year I was there it was a really close-knit group and it was a real good time. I love the city to be honest. I loved being there. I had just come over from Connacht so I thought it was going to be a really big shock but not at all – I really fitted in and loved it.
“The second year, although it was really tough, there was still a good group of lads there. I still enjoyed it as much as you can enjoy it in terms of not getting too many victories. We were pushing hard to get the club as high as we could and we were fighting to the end to keep it out of relegation, but we had a slight uphill battle with that.”
Eoghan’s dual role at the club will involve promoting Albion’s work in the community across an array of events whilst also being a player.
“I am a player first,” said Eoghan. “But what I am doing at the moment is trying to develop the community department with the rest of the team and Steve Pooley and Kev Norris as well, we are hitting it from all angles. We are trying to get the club out in the community and in the schools and summer camps and tag events and trying to push and promote Albion as a brand really.
“I think with the National One status at the moment it is semi-professional so you have to have boys that are working. I think the majority of boys are working jobs that they have had in the past or that they have sorted out themselves. There are a few boys that will be contracted but will probably do a bit of coaching or a bit of academy stuff on the side, but I’m not 100% sure.
“I am kind of thrown in at the deep end and trying to make it work with the other half – but it’s good at the moment, I am enjoying it. I did a bit of coaching in the past. I am used to that, but I am enjoying the other side where you are promoting the club rather than just being a coach.”
Eoghan is expecting to be one of the more senior players in the Brickfields dressing room, having played for several clubs and gained a lot of experience throughout his career.
“It is early doors,” said Eoghan. “I am senior in age anyway. I will be a senior player because I have been around the block and I know what I am doing at this stage but I don’t want to waltz in and say I am the senior player here. I want to fit in with the boys, it seems like there is a good core group of lads there and they are adding some good players to it so it is all positive stuff. So I’ll be a senior player by age and my CV I suppose.
“I haven’t had many dealings with any of the players as of now. This weekend will be my first introduction to all of the boys. Having talked to the other side of the club; they are working hard. The commercial side and the brand side are working hard getting Albion out there and making the contacts.
“They seem to be very positive in where we are going and are making steps in the right direction compared to maybe seasons gone by where it has been a bit hit and miss with certain things that have led it to maybe the darker times when they went towards administration.
“Things seem to be really positive. There is probably an underlying bit of pressure there for us to go up this year and get to the Championship again and I am sure all the boys will be on the same page as me really want to get up there and we will be giving it our all.
“It still is a tough league, I know no team came down but it is going to be a tough league. You have got a lot of clubs that have strengthened in the off-season so it will be interesting. I think the overall vibe is positive and high aspirations but at the same time understanding that the club is growing step by step but in the right direction.”
Eoghan knows several of the Albion players and admits it will be a strange phenomenon returning to a club that he has already been at with several players that he knows from his time in rugby.
“I know Herbie [Stupple] really well,” said Eoghan. “I was here for two years with Herbie. When I was at Exeter Chiefs I lived with Herbie. I know Jack Arnott from the Chiefs as well. I’m sure I will know a few faces; I have played against a few boys so I know them from having a chat after the games. I know Dan Pullinger. Luke Chapman who has just signed again, I know him well. Dan Williams I know well.
“It will be a bit different; normally you go to a club and you don’t know anyone so it will be a bit unusual going back to the club that I have been at before and secondly knowing a few faces. But it will be good, I am looking forward to it.”