Former hurler Cormac Izuchukwu happy to ‘stick’ at it with Ulster Rugby

Offaly background gave Ulster lock a taste of Gaelic Games in his youth

6 April 2024; Cormac Izuchukwu of Ulster during the United Rugby Championship match between Ulster and Benetton at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile
Cormac Izuchukwu (Ben McShane / SPORTSFILE)

Moving schools forced Ulster lock Cormac Izuchukwu to change sports and it turned out GAA’s loss was to be rugby’s gain.

From a family steeped in hurling with seven All-Ireland titles, the Offaly native’s journey to Kingspan Stadium wasn’t a straightforward one as he arrived in Belfast via, Scotland, the Newcastle Falcons and the Irish 7s programme.

The 24-year-old, who was born in London to an Irish mother and a Nigerian father, moved to Offaly when he was seven and is starting to flourish in the white shirt of Ulster having featured in the last eight games and is hoping he can help them keeping their quest for a URC play-off place alive when they travel to Scarlets tomorrow evening.

Izuchukwu explained the hurling pedigree in the family.

“The Dooley’s on my ma’s (Catriona) side (cousins), Billy, Johnny and Joe Dooley were good hurlers, I played a bit myself, I played for Offaly growing up both football and hurling, explained Izuchukwu.

“I moved school and ended up in (Cistercian College) Roscrea (Tipperary) and fell in love with rugby.”

“It was a bit of a natural progression for me, a lot of the boys that stayed around the town would keep it going (GAA), like most people going away from home I like to do different things, so it was bound to happen at some point anyway.”

Izuchukwu believes playing Gaelic Games has helped him develop into a professional rugby player.

“It’s a good grounding going into rugby. I personally like playing rugby in the loose. I played a bit of basketball growing up so I like playing rugby in the loose when it is a bit more free, you can try different things so it has definitely helped me.”

Despite that though, it still took the lock a while to adapt to rugby when he first tried his hand with the oval ball.

“One of my coaches growing up was Kieran Egan and he made us do full contact, so I hated getting beat up for the first couple of months. After a while I kind of fell in love and really enjoyed it, I was a winger back then so it was probably easier back then than it is now.”

“I finished school and good friends of mine Michael Milne and Josh Wycherley were playing in academies and playing professionally, at that point I felt like I had more to give, I love rugby and wanted to keep playing, I wanted to play for a club and do it as long as I can.”

“I thought it was a good chance for me to travel as well, end up in Canada or Australia, play for different club sides in different leagues.”

“I was in Scotland just playing for a club and you’d get like £70 a week in a brown envelope on a Saturday to do my bills and then I ended up going down to Newcastle for a while.”

“I went into 7s then got called into the 7s and met Naz (Kieran Campbell) there and got called into the academy here.”

“I ended up getting a phone call from the 7s, I loved 7s as a back and though I’d be good at it, but I was pretty bad for the first year, slow and stuff but I got quick at the end.”

“Just with the rent in Dublin I couldn’t afford to stay there.”

Having to wait his chance is finally paying off for the 6ft 7 second row.

“It’s a tough one and still something that I am working on because as every player does you think you are good enough to play every week.”

“You have to take a minute step back and respect that they have done so much and maybe I haven’t proved as much to the coaches so maybe it is just a case like the last two weeks whenever you get, and opportunity just try and make sure you show the coaches what you have.”