In a weekend where Cork Constitution celebrated their newest international, they mourned another with the passing of club stalwart Jerry Holland.
Saturday afternoon brought a wave of excitement following an AIL victory and news that Jack Crowley had made his debut off the bench, yet sombre undertones predominated the minds of those that worked closely with Jerry.
Rugby afforded me the opportunity to cross paths with people and networks that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Jerry Holland was one of those people.
He is rugby royalty and had moved to the upper echelons of Cork Con by the time I was introduced to him when I signed for the club ahead of the 2011/2012 season.
Back then I didn’t really know what it was that committee members did and the hours of effort that went in behind the scenes to keep the show on the road for the players to perform week in, week out on a Saturday afternoon.
However, in the last six years of coaching, I have witnessed first-hand the unwavering level of commitment and support that Jerry, and many others like him, give clubs throughout the country.
Outsiders may believe that Cork Con runs itself, but that is a complete inaccuracy as far as I am concerned.
It’s the likes of Jerry, the volunteers and the hundreds of man hours every year that have built the foundations of the club that I’m currently trusted to coach. It was Jerry that put me on that pathway.
In 2016, I was asked to get involved with the Con Under-20s, orchestrated by a group and spearheaded by Jerry.
Walking towards Munster’s current High Performance Centre, I fielded a call from him. I knew what was coming, a formal involvement in the team with which I planned on backing away from.
With a newfound fear of commitment following my early retirement as a player, I simply didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. I had planned on thanking Jerry for the opportunity and the interest, thinking that it wasn’t for me.
Two minutes later I was confused as to how I had committed for one night a week, which rapidly became three times a week, and six years later I still wonder how I’ve been roped into the job.
One conversation with the stern and convincing voice of Jerry and I’m grateful for it ever since.
I don’t mind putting the club on a pedestal. It doesn’t feel like a brag because I wasn’t brought up there. I was accepted in and I’ve had the privilege of learning from great people.
Long after players leave the club on training nights, the lights stay on and various committees go to work on club matters. This is the unseen work that allows the club game to flourish.
There are unsung heroes all over the country in club rugby. Yet, unsung is the wrong description for Jerry and his fellow members. It might be unseen by many, but his work is appreciated by all.
Rugby took a big hit across the pandemic. We saw that from a professional level the whole way down to club level and our club was no different. Club rugby wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for presidents, directors of rugby and genuinely good people like Jerry working tirelessly when it would be easier not to.
The game is indebted to anyone that can give their all to the professional game, win major trophies with their province and still find the energy to prop up their club. That’s what Jerry has done and we owe him dearly for his years of service.
The game will move on this weekend with Ireland facing Australia in the final test match of the calendar year before the Six Nations rolls round again. There will be a nod to Jerry before this and then life will carry on.
We’ve lost a leader, a great ambassador and a great man
It’s very easy to get caught up in league fixtures, results, international matches and other competitive aspects of the game. It’s worth slowing things down and appreciating the people you meet along the way, especially those that have made such a positive contribution towards developing the game.
To have such an influence on the transition from amateur to professional takes a lot of charisma and character.
To survive in any industry or sport as long as Jerry did is a phenomenal achievement, fostered by people skills and an unrelenting quest for success.
Jerry didn’t only make me feel welcome, but my parents and family too. Going over and above was part of his DNA, continuing to support the club through his challenging illness.
Jerry will be sorely missed by our club and the wider rugby community.
We’ve lost a leader, a great ambassador and a great man.
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