Cathal Forde talks about touring South Africa with Ireland

Imagine having your dream job at 21. You play for your home province, represented your country and get to travel the globe. That’s the life Galway-man Cathal Forde has already lived in his 21 years on this planet.

He was selected for the Emerging Ireland that went to South Africa in October. However, he wasn’t initially picked in the squad, he was called up until just a couple days before they jetted off to the southern hemisphere.

He describes receiving the call-up: “I found out on the Saturday, I was asked to go to the three-day camp beforehand. I was asked to go to that because Ciaran Frawley was playing for Leinster on Friday night and he dropped on the Friday, so Saturday morning they asked did I have my passport and I was straight in.

“I wasn’t overthinking too much, just asked on the Saturday, trained on Saturday, trained Sunday and flew Sunday night.”

He wasn’t the only Connacht player selected. Sam Illo, Cian Prendergast, Chay Mullins and fellow Galwegian Dylan Tierney-Martin also travelled to South Africa. Meanwhile, Caolin Blade was also meant to join the contingent of Westerners but the scrum-half came down with an injury just before the squad flew off to South Africa.

The squad were based in Bloemfontein, but they didn’t get to venture outside their hotel much, as Forde explains: “We were fairly cooped up in our hotel in Bloemfontein, which wouldn’t be the nicest spot.

“They didn’t wasn’t us leaving the hotel because of the dangerous situation.”

However the squad still got to have some valuable experiences. “The hotel was nice and we got out to visit an orphanage in one of the townships nearby. That was actually a very good experienced while we also got out to a wildlife centre and got to see a few lions, tigers and stuff like that.”

This wasn’t Forde’s first tour with an Ireland squad, he was part of the Ireland U20’s squad that played in the U20’s Six Nations in June 2020. The whole tournament took place in Cardiff with Forde starring for a good Irish side. He scored Ireland’s first try during their victory over the hosts Wales.

Cathal Forde started the second game of the tour against Pumas in Bloemfontein. This game was a much closer call than the tour opener against the Griquas as Emerging Ireland only came out 28-24 winners against the Pumas. In a post-match interview Forde described the match as “unbelievably physical”.

“It was an unbelievable game, unbelievably physical. They stuck it to us right to the end so it was good to come away with a win down here, the lungs are feeling it after that. It was just a very tough game but the lads stuck with it until the 80 minutes. It’s just really good to come away with a win.

“We’ve only been together a week but we know each other really well at this stage. It’s just class.”

He also recalls his experience of playing in the Cheetahs’ Toyota Stadium for the third game, saying: “The Cheetahs stadium was pretty insane to play in. It’s massive, holds about 60,000 but even we had a couple thousand which felt like nothing because the stadium was so massive.”

For Forde, the most valuable thing he took from the trip was working with the majority of the Ireland first team coaching staff. “The stuff I learnt from the Irish senior coaches, it shows that it’s not really a million miles away. To get that experience, to get that exposure was valuable.”

The future is looking bright for Cathal Forde, last season he won AIL 2B player of the season while playing for Corinthians and in January he signed his first professional contract with Connacht and has featured for the Westerners in the URC.

He has also been selected for the Barbarians squad for their matches against Harlequins and Bath over in England during the November international window. Good times are indeed ahead for the young Galway-man.

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