All American Barry Part of Growing Dynasty
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All American Barry Part of Growing Dynasty
Among the players off to Queensland with the Men’s Collegiate All Americans is UCLA captain Niall Barry.
You might recognize that name, if you’ve been reading rugby in these pages, and we wouldn’t blame you. Niall Barry is a crucial cog in the UCLA machine, and is teammates with his younger brother Cian. For his part, Cian (pronounced KEE-an, like Ian with a K at the beginning), is a former USA U20 player who suited up for the United States at the Youth Olympics. Not bad for a rugby family, but there’s more, as younger brothers Aidan and Shane played for there Eagle Impact Rugby Academy U16s that swept the British Columbia U16s in July.
The four Barry boys all attended or are attending high school in England - Aidan and Shane are still at the Hampton School in London. Their father, David, is Irish, and they’ve all got English accents, but the rest of the story is pretty American.
“I played rugby in Ireland and then moved to New York - White Plains - for work,” David Barry explained. “I met Maureen, and she’d never seen rugby, but she came to a game and she just loved it instantly.”
Knowing a good thing when he found it, David convinced Maureen to marry him, and they planned to remain in the US and raise a family. Work intervened, though, as David’s employer sent him back across the Atlantic.
“That was supposed to be for two years, but then it was extended, and we made the decision right then, that our sons would go to high school in the UK, but we’d send them to the US for college,” said David.
As the family grew, it became obvious all the Barry boys had a talent and love for rugby.
“Maureen was a very good gymnast and I think it was a good combination of genes,” said David. “But they definitely get their balance from her!”
And so the migration West has begun.
Through his high school years Cian had his heart set on UCLA, but it was the older Niall who visited colleges first. On his way back from a visit to California, and Niall ran into the dad of Ben Francis - former UCLA standout - and James Francis, who was a very good friend of Cian's.
“I bumped into him at an airport, just randomly, and he started talking and he said I should talk to the coach [Scott Stewart] at UCLA and he can tell you about the program,” Niall explained to Goff Rugby Report. “So it was a complete coincidence, but now I can tell Cian that he follows me everywhere!”
Niall and Cian - a skillful 5-7 fullback for the Bruins - still had to make the grade academically and Maureen Barry told Goff Rugby Report that keeping their grades up has been a huge priority for the family. Rugby is great, said both parents, but schoolwork comes first.
Growing into his role as a student and rugby player at UCLA, Niall captained the team this past season and will return for his senior year.
“It was a fairly good season for us,” explained Niall, a 5-11 center. “It was interesting being captain - a lot of responsibility straight off the bat. Normally we’re either good in 7s or 15s, but I think we were fairly balanced and played well in both. As a captain, there’s a bit of player management. I like to think I am good friends with everyone on the team and I want the players to feel they have someone in a senior position they can talk to about how the club’s going or what they personally are doing; keeping the morale up on the team was something I felt I could do pretty well.”
UCLA often finds itself runner-up against Cal, in the PAC Conference 7s and PAC Conference 15s. It's a source of some frustration, but Niall points out the progress being made.
“But if you look at the trajectory Scott Stewart has the team at, we’re getting there and we’re come a long way.”
We asked Shane and Aidan if UCLA is in the cards for them, and they didn’t reject the idea at all, both saying they’d love to attend college in California.
“It was important that they go to college in America,” added David. “But I think also, if you’re looking ahead and to perhaps finding a job in London or someplace like that, you’d want to go to a university that an employer in London would know something about. That was important to us, and a place like UCLA has worldwide renown, and the boys are in a good structure.”
And, yes, all four might end up at the same place. They're already frequently on the phone with each other, catching up on each other's games, and maybe pulling a few legs, too.
“Following on to UCLA wouldn’t be a problem for me, we all get along pretty well,” said Aidan, a 5-9 scrumhalf who is entering his sophomore year.
“I think I’d like to be nearer my brothers,” added Shane, who it 5-10, a rising junior, and plays flanker.
The Barry brothers, you see, like the same things, all love to play rugby, and actually all say they don’t trash-talk each other all that much (maybe a little).
“We got into the age-grade stuff with the USA because Niall started doing it,” said Shane. “Every since he did it, we wanted to do it, too.”
Even as Shane and Aidan attend Hampton, where Niall went (Cian attended Epsom College), they don’t seem too perturbed at being called the wrong name.
“It happens once in a while, but mostly jokingly I think,” said Shane.
“I don’t think they quite lived it down completely,” added Niall.
All four played for Salty Thompson in some form. Shane and Aidan are hoping to break into the HS All Americans as they get older. Niall and Cian were HS All Americans and then USA U20 players. Playing and loving the sport their whole lives has helped.
“I think more than anything it helped with decision-making,” said their father. "There's a comfort level they have with the game that comes from playing for so long. Every player on the EIRA team and the HS All Americans if the go-to player on his home team. Learning how to make decisions when you're not the go-to guy is what they learn. The coaches have done a great job for them."
The experience for going to America and playing has been one all four looked forward to. Maureen, their mother, has been quite happy to support their American side, too.
“Playing for EIRA in Canada was intense,” said Aidan. “It was more intense than what we’re used to I think. Coach Salty Thompson ran it really well, the food was really good. We got a look at how rugby expands our opportunities. We’re not big, we we’ve been playing rugby a lot longer than some of the other players, so we needed to come in an be a bit smarter with how we play.”
“The athletes in America are bigger, faster, stronger,” added Shane. “They have great athletic ability, and we had to make sure we played smart rugby but were also able to handle the physical side. We’re not the biggest family, but we do enjoy the contact.”
What they also enjoy, is the idea of playing rugby for the USA. They might have English accents (Niall said his is changing a little, but it’s unlikely it will change much), but their love of their mother’s home country is obvious.
Niall was reportedly offered a chance to try out for the Irish 7s team, and passed. They are all full-engaged in the ideal of playing for the USA.
“I got the opportunity to play for the High School All Americans through my high school coach,” said Niall, who is the only one of the four boys born in the USA. “I didn’t know that opportunity was there, but when I learned about it I wanted to seize it with both hands. All of us will try and take rugby as far as we can.”
“My dad asked me about nationality and whether I considered myself Irish, but we spend a lot more time in the US, and we definitely lean US,” added Shane.
And the experience doesn’t hurt. David has praised HSAA Coach Salty Thompson for making the entire venture fun for his kids. Eagle Impact Rugby Academy - which is overseen by Thompson but was coached by others in BC (John Banarhall led the U16s) - received similar praise.
“We bonded with a lot of people,” said Shane. “I’d never met anyone from Tennessee before, and that was great to become friends with those guys. They’re really dedicated. I think everyone bonded over rugby and that was the strength the team had.”
It’s the same idea for Niall as he travels with the All Americans - the experience, and the team.
“There’s the rugby aspect - I want to play well and perform well in front of coaches high up on the totem pole, but also I’ve never been to Australia. It’s more life experience,” said Niall. “Rugby has taken me to so many different countries, it’s really cool. And for the team, with all national teams there’s very little time to prepare, so the guys all have to be really coachable, and communicate with each other. It’s something I am really looking forward to.”
And we are looking forward to seeing the Barry family in action for years to come.