Kelvin Brown was born into a family with lifelong ties to Shannon on both sides. His mother Karen O’Shea is from a family that has produced some of the all time great Shannon players as well as past presidents. His father Harold Brown comes from a household who have also produced some of the club’s best players - both male and female, and whose mother Ann has served herself and Violets famous stew for generations of Shannon players after matches. In fact, Kelvin’s birth was celebrated in typical Shannon fashion as his father Harold, captained the team that won the Junior Cup the day after he was born. Kelvin himself was part of the next Shannon team to win the coveted trophy, on his birthday - 20 years later. It’s a fond memory for him; one that he says is his best memory with Shannon. The Junior Cup holds huge sentimentality in the Brown household; “Winning the junior cup was a big one for me and my family - my uncle and mentor Pat was our coach. My father was captain in 1996 when they last won it. I was born the day before and to win it on my birthday two years ago was massive. I would have been quite friendly with a lot of the lads on that team so to win such a big trophy with them, a trophy that is so difficult to win, was a massive memory.”
Being immersed in the club from the day he was born meant that Shannon has always played a big part of Kelvin’s life. One of his earliest Shannon memories is being a mascot with his father, who was captain of the thirds team that won the McInerney Cup in Thomond Park. He was five and recalls that at the time both his uncles Niall and Billy O’Shea were also playing for Shannon. He grew up around the teams and players and cites not only his father and uncles, but any Shannon player that went on to play for Ireland as his biggest influences, most notably Eddie Halvey, Jerry Flannery and Marcus Horan. In particular, it was Eddie Halvey’s playing style and athleticism that sees him marked as his all time favourite Shannon player. “He was an all round athlete, great player, nice guy. I’ve always looked up to him from a young age; I looked up to his playing ability.” Club members have watched Kelvin grow up and go from strength to strength over the years. Never far from the senior set up, he has travelled the country supporting Shannon and was always a presence around the club. In recent years he began working behind the bar and was always available for a chat or analysis of whatever match was going on at the time.
Kelvin, like most young players these days, dreams of playing professional rugby. He got a taste of this when he earned a place in the Munster Academy a couple of years ago. Kelvin has nothing but fond memories of his time in the academy and cites the experience as one that helped him grow both as a player and as a person. “It was massive. I learned an awful lot from it. It was tough and that but it was a thoroughly enjoyable time in my life.” He faced the same problem many young players face today and had to find the time to juggle college and work with the demands of training for both Munster and Shannon. The training brought about its own hurdles to overcome, but it seems that the high intensity is something Kelvin relished. “It’s tough; you have to be quite focused. You have to be very mentally strong. I enjoy training and I enjoy getting up in the morning to train so I found that part easy, training with your friends, improving every day and improving every week. I didn’t find it too bad though, getting out on the pitch for early mornings when it’s still dark can be tough but that’s what has to be done.”
His positive attitude and work-hard ethic was rewarded when Kelvin got the call he had been waiting for. Another goal was ticked off the bucket list when he was called up to the Irish u20s Squad for their World Championship campaign. The draw was no easy feat. Ireland were pooled in a group with Grand Slam holders Wales and previous World Champions New Zealand and in the eyes of the media, weren’t expected to qualify to the knockout stages. Looking back at the experience, it’s clear to see he enjoyed every bit of it and again used the opportunity to develop his game. “It was an amazing experience. I suppose heading into it you don’t know what to think and you throw the kitchen sink at everything. It was always a dream of mine to play against New Zealand - to beat them was a great achievement. But look, we were beaten by a better team in the final, outmuscled and outclassed. But to get to where we got to, that’s something you only dream about. It was unbelievable. I’ll bring those memories with me for the rest of my career. I made a lot of friends and again grew as a player which is the biggest thing to take from it. I matured and got a lot out of it. It was unbelievable - the highlight of my career so far.”
Chatting about the pressures of the game, especially the more crucial matches in the knock out stages, you get the understanding that Kelvin is mentally strong. His ability to focus on the job in hand is something enviable, and it’s obvious that he takes great pleasure in just simply playing rugby. “You just put the pressure to the side and look at it like a normal game. We went into them (the knock out games) the same as we did all of the other games. Honestly, it’s natural that you’re going to be nervous and you’re going to have butterflies but you only get an opportunity like that once and you can’t let it pass you by - you can’t get overly nervous. You just have to live in the moment.”
Kelvin’s capability to focus on the job in hand stood to him, as he found out during the World Cup that Munster would not be renewing his academy place for the coming season. This was a serious blow to Kelvin who had loved his experience in the Munster academy and who was consistently making an impact off the bench at the World Cup. He had to park his disappointment however as the team battled their way to the final. There was huge exposure of each player, his fellow team-mate Ben Betts was in the same boat and people were generally bewildered by their Munster exclusion. Betts explored his options and signed a deal which would see him play his rugby abroad, while Kelvin came back to Limerick and Shannon to weigh up his own options.
Conor O’Leary of balls.ie had been in contact with Kelvin and written pieces about him throughout the World Cup; he touched base on Kelvin’s return to see if he would be interested in speaking candidly about his non-inclusion with Munster. The article when published, began to get traction amongst rugby supporters and it again put Kelvin in the spotlight. People were sympathetic. “I got a lot of messages after the article; there was a lot of support saying that they agreed with the article and saying “put your head down keep doing what you’re doing, keep your attitude and things will come” so that’s what I did”. Again you get a glimpse of Kelvin’s mental resolve, when I asked him if he felt it hard to motivate himself or if he felt that needed to prove himself after not getting his place in the academy “No, absolutely not. I didn’t think that I had to prove anything to anyone. I just had to keep doing what I’m doing and things will fall into place. There was nothing to prove to anyone.”
Working hard over the summer and remaining positive paid off, and Kelvin was delighted to announce that he has signed a deal with Aurillac, a French team based in South Central France who are in the second division. Irish man Jeremy Davidson is head coach. Everyone is delighted to see the hard work pay off; it verifies what we have been saying about him for a long time now. Kelvin will move to France soon as a professional player and he will tick yet another item off his bucket list. Shannon as a club has been united in its support and we are delighted to have another professional player come up through our ranks. Even through the excitement, Shannon isn’t far from Kelvin’s mind. “I’ve got a lot of messages; some are sad to see me go and that, but once an opportunity like this pops up - you have to go out and get it. It’s always been a dream of mine to play professional rugby, so when it came up obviously it was a no brainer. Its tough leaving home and leaving the club you want to play for, for the rest of your life but look, hopefully I’ll have a career and come back here and win a few trophies afterwards.”
I asked Kelvin what the best advice he was ever given as regards to rugby and his answer was, “train the way you play and keep improving each week. Week after week, be better than you were the week before. Keep striving, keep looking for new things and exploring new ways.” This answer seems to be typical of Kelvin who it appears, is always determined to better himself and his game. We are genuinely excited to see how Kelvin will come on and develop under Jeremy Davidson in a club that will no doubt push him to his limit, and then some.
We spoke about the system in place for young people now and what advice he could offer anyone who finds themselves in a similar position to the one he was in upon his return from England. He spoke sincerely here stating, “If you get let go by a team, it’s not the only team out there. Rugby is played across the world; there are a lot of other options to explore and a lot of other options there. Don’t get disheartened; keep doing what you’re doing, work hard. One coach’s opinion will be different to another coach - you’ll find a gap somewhere.”
Speaking about younger players coming through the ranks, we touched on Shannon’s support structures that are in place for emerging players. I questioned if Kelvin felt that we are on the right path as regards providing a platform for younger players to progress. He agreed saying, “Absolutely; there are a lot of young guys here so that’s a driving force to become a professional player. Shannon has a great platform for that. We do a lot of work very professionally here even though we are an amateur club, so for me it’s great to be coming from one professional environment and going to another professional environment.”
Over the summer Kelvin put in his first full pre-season with Shannon in a few years having not been involved with Munster. He feels the team and management have stepped it up a notch and after a summer of hard work and late nights in the gym and on the pitches that they are ready for this year’s AIL. The coaching set up has gone from strength to strength over the last few years and with the most recent addition of David O’Donovan and Tom Hayes to the already solid set up of Marcus Horan, Ian Sherwin, Pat Brown, Brian Collins, Pat Cross, Donnacha Mulcahy and Donnagh Flannery, he thinks we are properly utilising our ex-players and they experience they can offer our next generation. “We have had two Shannon stalwarts joining us this year in David O’Donovan and Tom Hayes. It’s great to see Tom back after putting in so many years with us, he won a lot of trophies with us and went away and had an unbelievable career over in England. It's great to have his knowledge here since he's come back. Of course with Dunny, he’s already given his life to Shannon and it looks like he’s going to give the rest of his life to Shannon. He’s another new brain in there for the backs, but its two new brilliant additions to an already great coaching staff.”
The mood in the Shannon camp at the moment seems to be great with an air of anticipation for the coming season and while we will be sorry not to be able to include Kelvin in the squad, he thinks that they will be well able for the task in hand. “I’ve said before we have quite a young team, I suppose you have that group of players that would hopefully stay together for the next ten years. They’re going to get to know each other and know how each other plays and that’s going to make things better. It’s not an easy path or a quick path but we’ll be there in the next couple of years, no doubt.”
We finished up chatting about Kelvin’s own feelings towards the club and what he feels sets Shannon aside as a club, or what aspect he enjoys the most. He thought about it for awhile before replying “I suppose our history is a major part of this club. We have a lot of trophies and a lot of memories with that; we have a big name for ourselves. I think that we are probably the most prestigious club in all of Ireland, we have 9 AILs. There is great support for us, up and down the country – anywhere. You could go into a pub up in the north and see a Shannon jersey on the wall. It’s in the set up and the coaches, the guys who get behind everyone; the guys who are out on a Saturday and a Sunday shouting you on - It’s a great homely club and a great club to play for.”
The final question I asked Kelvin is one I’ve asked each player I’ve interviewed so far. “What does Shannon mean to you personally or as a player?” His response sums up a life-long relationship with the club. “There are a lot of things I could say but I grew up with the dream of playing for Shannon and playing in Thomond Park, of running out in Lansdowne road. I’ve already achieved one of my dreams which is quite amazing. Both sides of my family have been brought up in Shannon so it’s in everything we do. We have Shannon memorabilia hanging on our walls, hanging in my room. I’ve been dressed in Shannon jersey since the week I was born. It’s a club that I will play for and when I retire I’ll be involved with for the rest of my life. It means an awful lot.”
We would like to wish Kelvin the very best of luck on his signing with Aurillac. While we are sorry to lose him from our squad, we are delighted to see him progress and keep ticking those boxes off his bucket list. His lack of presence will be felt at matches and throughout the club as will his sense of humour and welcoming chats. Kelvin is a great ambassador for the club and his good attitude and professional outlook is something that many young players can aspire to emulate. We wish Kelvin and Aurillac the very best for the coming season.
Updated 00:05 - 8 Oct 2016 by Katie McCloskey