Croke up for top rugby award

Rugby

Croke up for top rugby award

Former Portlaoise RFC player, Bryan Croke (24), is one of six nominations for Best Male (Amateur) Player in England last season.

Bryan has been playing with Wimbledon RFC for the past three seasons and has been their regular out half. Like most Irish lads of his age, Bryan, as well as rugby, also played football and hurling. But as time progressed he made the decision to concentrate on rugby when he was 16 years of age.

In 2009, the year he did his Leaving Certificate in Ballyfin College, incidentally the last year the exam was held in the college before it closed, he was a member of the Leinster Youth rugby team that won the inter-provincial series.

That year he went to Carlow IT where he completed his degree in Sports and Exercise and Business Management with rugby. This was a golden era for rugby in the college during which they won three successive College All Ireland titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013, with Bryan captaining the team in 2011 and 2012.

In 2010 Bryan decided to transfer his club allegiance to Boyne RFC. The Drogheda based club was one of the top junior clubs in Leinster having won the Provincial Towns Cup the previous two seasons, and were pushing hard for promotion to the All Ireland League.

His decision to switch to Boyne was influenced by the fact that former All Blacks Maori, Craig McGrath was player/coach with the club. Bryan knew, that as a number 10, he would learn a lot from the experienced scrum-half.

Bryan was to be the team's regular out-half that season when they won promotion to the AIL. His displays that season earned him a regular place on the Leinster Junior provincial team.

The following season Bryan was honoured by being made captain of the Boyne team, and, at just 20 years of age, the youngest ever captain of the club. At the end of that season he had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand to play with Craig McGrath's home club, Waitamata in Auckland.

Bryan played one more season with Boyne when he received Player of the Year in 2013.

Wanting to test himself at a higher level and to explore new boundaries, Bryan took the decision to move to London for the 2013/14 season where he joined Wimbledon RFC.

At the time Wimbledon played in the London South 1 Division, but had their sights set on higher things. They just missed out on promotion that year but such was Bryan's impact he was nominated as Players' Player of the Year.

The following season the club was to go one better and in 2014/15 won promotion to National League 3. It was another good year for Bryan winning both the Player of the Year and Players' Player of the Year in Wimbledon.

Last season Wimbledon settled in well in the higher division finishing mid-division.

As well as playing, Bryan has always had an interest in coaching and this has brought its own rewards in London. As part of his work with Wimbledon he took training session with the club’s under-17 squad, helping them win The Surrey League and 7s.

In 2014 he undertook his first head coach role at St George's Medical University leading them to their first trophy in over 100 years, the Bucs (British Universities and Colleges) Cup.

Last season Bryan and St George's went one better capturing the UH (United Hospitals) Cup, which is notable for being the oldest rugby cup competition in the world. The cup was first played for in 1875, and St George's won it the following year. They went on to win it again in 1880 and '82 but not until this year was their name again engraved on the plinth, a gap of 133 years.

The winner will be announced at the National Rugby Awards which will be held in Twickenham on Thursday 1 September, and until then Bryan will be keeping his fingers crossed.