Never give up. An exceptional Irish XV


Below is an Irish XV with a difference. All play(ed) international rugby and all became entrepreneurs.  

What is it about rugby players and entrepreneurship? Perhaps it’s the cut and thrust of being in business that drives them? Maybe it’s inbuilt ambition and the desire to keep winning? Below are the top 15 Irish rugby stars* who took their battle-hardened heads into the competitive world of business.

(*If you have your own thoughts, why not join the debate on our Facebook page?)

ray mcloughlin

Wearing the No. 1 jersey: Ray McLoughlin (industrial holdings)

Ray McLoughlin, one of the best loosehead props to don the green jersey, won 40 caps for Ireland, captained the side seven times and went on two Lions tours to Australia (1966) and New Zealand (1971).

In 1973, while still an international player, McLoughlin gained control of the shell company James Crean. Over the next 20 years, he grew the business to be one of the most valuable industrial holding companies on the Irish Stock Exchange. Crean was acquired by the Oakhill Group in 2001 and McLoughlin became chairman of that group until 2006, when he left and sold his shares. 

Honorable mentions

Reggie Corrigan. Having represented both Leinster and Ireland as a player, and gone on to be the scrum coach with Leinster, Reggie Corrigan is now head of commercial with Sportdec, a ‘fan-centric sports app’.

Marcus Horan. As well as being a TV pundit for TG4 and head of player development with Munster Rugby, the former Grand Slam winner also worked in the property sector.

Jerry Flannery

Wearing the No. 2 jersey: Jerry Flannery (hospitality and media)

With 41 appearances for Ireland and 99 appearances for Munster and Connaught combined, Flannery is the current scrum coach for Munster and the former strength and conditioning coach with Arsenal FC.

Flannery is also involved in the hospitality and media sectors. He is the driving force behind Jerry Flannery’s Bar in Limerick and one of the original investors in, and currently a director with, Maximum Media which operates the lifestyle websites for men and women –,,, and

Honorable mentions

Rory Best. Best is an Irish centurion with a record-holding 179 appearance for Ulster. The Best family runs a 900-acre farm in Co. Down where Rory spends his spare time away from the pitch.

Keith Wood. One of the greatest players ever to don the green jersey, the 58 caps hooker now, with his brother, runs The Wood Brother’s Café in Clarisford Park, Killaloe. Woods is also a non-executive director of the commercial board of Munster Rugby.

John Hayes

Wearing the No. 3 jersey: John Hayes (farming)

Affectionately known as ‘The Bull’, the 105 caps tight head now spends his time on a 140-acre farm in the townland of Dromsallagh, in the parish of Cappamore, Co Limerick.

Honorable mention

Sean Lynch (publican). Owner of Dublin’s Swan Bar on Aungier Street, Lynch went to St. Mary’s in Rathmines as a young lad, excelled at rugby and went on to play for Leinster. He was capped in 1971 and played on a Lions tour to New Zealand later that year. It was the first Lions team to beat New Zealand in a test series in 112 years.

Paul O'Connell

Wearing the No. 4  jersey: Paul O’Connell

O’Connell has teamed up with JP McManus and is to head up a digital interactive visitor centre dedicated to rugby worldwide. It is set to open in Limerick in September 2019. O’Connell also works with Ireland’s under-20 team and is an ambassador for the Aldi Play Rugby programme which introduces non-contact forms of rugby to primary schools.

Honourable mention

Malcolm O’Kelly (product specialist). Since retiring from rugby, the gentle giant, who won three Heineken Cups, a Grand Slam and toured twice with the Lions, O’Kelly has gone on to work as a product specialist for Tekno Surgical, an orthopaedics firm. 

Trevor Brennan

Wearing the No. 5 jersey: Trevor Brennan (hospitality)

If you Google Trevor Brennan you’ll probably find him on the ‘longest rugby bans’ lists. However, the former Leinster, Toulouse and Irish international hardman, is also a successful businessman. He runs Rugby Travel Ireland (formally Trevor Brennan Tours) as well as being the forwards’ coach to the Toulouse under 20s team (where his son now plays). The Leixlip legend has plenty on his plate since retirement.

Honourable mention

Bob Casey (CEO, London Irish). The former Leinster, London Irish and Ireland player is now CEO of London Irish having been a member of the board and its operations director. Casey has also been a senior development manager for Powerday and a pundit for Sky.

Stephen Ferris runs with the ball 14/6/2008

Wearing the No. 6 jersey: Stephen Ferris (media)

Forced to retire at 28, Stephen Ferris won 35 caps for Ireland and made 106 appearances for Ulster. The Ulsterman was a born leader on the field of play and had a gift for dismantling forwards and halfbacks to help his team drive forward. The ‘man mountain’ now works in media, has written an autobiography and is also the CEO of Ferrosity Limited, his holding company.

Honourable mention

Kevin McLoughlin who is now the VP of operations for Kitman Labs.

Sean O'Brien

Wearing the No. 7 jersey: Sean O’Brien (farming and hospitality)

As well as working on the family farm, and being heavily involved in Tullow RFC, the Tullow Tank has a number of investments in the business world. O’Brien is the performance director with The Hub Controller, a heat control app for households, and part-owner of Dublin pubs The Bridge and Lemon & Duke.

Honourable mention

David Wallace. Having amassed 203 caps for Munster, 73 caps for Ireland and three appearances for the British and Irish Lions, Wallace was forced to retire from the game before the 2011 World Cup. He was previously in business development for STATSports, a leading wearable sports brand. In 2012 he opened a Mr Simms’ Olde Sweet Shoppe franchise in Limerick. The former flanker is now a regional business development manager in Munster for Bank of Ireland.

Jamie Heaslip

Wearing the No. 8 jersey: Jamie Heaslip (hospitality, media and industry)

Where to start? We’ve previously featured Heaslip, but for now, we’ll just say he has investments in Kitman Labs, The Bridge, Lemon & Duke, Bear Restaurant, Jo-Burger, Trackbed Restaurant, Skinflint, Lovin’ Dublin, UrbanVolt, Pointy and Coco5. There, I think we got them all.

Honourable mention

Victor Costello. From controlling the back of the scrum to controlling the front of a Boeing 737, Costello, who has also represented Ireland in the Shot Put at the Olympics, spent the last seven years as a pilot for Ryanair based out of Stansted Airport.

peter stringer

Wearing the No. 9 jersey: Peter Stringer (hospitality)

If Peter’s business investments last for as long as his rugby career, then they’ll be just fine. The evergreen scrum-half is a director or Overlay Events, an events company based in the UK. He is still playing rugby. 

Honourable mention

Eoin Reddan. Since retiring, Reddan is now a business analyst for aviation firm Avolon.Tony Ward

Wearing the No. 10 jersey: Tony Ward

One of the greatest No 10s to wear an Irish shirt, Ward was part of the Munster team that beat the All Blacks and went on to work as a rugby journalist and co-commentator on RTÉ. Ward also works as the head of fundraising for the charity Fighting Blindness.

Tony O'Reilly rugby career

Wearing the No. 11 jersey: Tony O’Reilly

Sir Anthony O’Reilly towers above the field of Irish sportspeople who succeeded in the world of business. As a rugby player, O’Reilly made his debut for the Irish international team aged just 18 in 1955. He went on to win 29 caps for Ireland as a winger including a surprise final appearance against England in 1970 after a six-year absence from international rugby. He also featured on two British and Irish Lions tours in 1955 and 1959 and, with a total of six tries, remains the record highest Lions Test try scorer to this day.

Outside of rugby, O’Reilly stormed into the world of business and media and can lay claim to being Ireland’s first billionaire.

Gordon Darcy businessman

Wearing the No. 12 jersey: Gordon Darcy (wealth management, fitness and hospitality)

In addition to being a pundit and guest speaker, Darcy also works in the investment and wealth management department of Investec. The former centre also runs Form School, a fitness business, with his wife, Aoife. He is also co-owner of The Exchequer Pub in Dublin.

Brian O'Driscoll

Wearing the No. 13 jersey: Brian O’Driscoll (various sectors)

As usual the first name on the team sheet. Do we have to do an intro? Since retiring in 2014, BOD has been busy in the business world. As well as being a pundit for TV and radio, he has been an ambassador for HSBC. He co-owns the Ultimate Rugby app and is an investor in Glendalough Whiskey. Ireland’s most capped try scorer is also a senior advisor with Teneo Holdings.

Honourable mention

Eoin O’Malley. Forced to retire at the age of 25, O’Malley now has investments in The Bath Pub, Sam’s Bar and The Jar Pub.

tommy bowe

Wearing the No. 14 jersey: Tommy Bowe (clothing)

One of his more famous investments is with Buddha Brand or, as his sub-brand is better known, The XV Kings. Tommy Bowe Designs or the Tommy Bowe Collection made a handsome profit last year.

Hugo McNeill

Wearing the No. 15 jersey: Hugo McNeil (consultancy, Ireland World Cup 2020)

A bit of a toss up over who to choose to start here. But from a business point of view, McNeil is the former head of Boston Consultancy Group Ireland, Goldman Sachs Ireland and is currently the head of Ireland World Cup 2020.

Honourable mention

Rob Kearney (retail and hospitality). Like many rugby players with a multitude of investments, Kearney has a holding company. The Leinster and Ireland fullback has a number of investments in businesses such as Oslo Beauty (with O’Driscoll’s wife Amy Huberman), The Bridge Pub, Lemon & Duke, Mason Alexander, Industry Design as well as being the chairman of the Irish Rugby Union Players Association.

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Article by Barry Walsh. Photos courtesy of