IT SEEMS FITTING that Lansdowne FC’s clubhouse nestles in the shadows of Irish rugby’s national stadium as their latest convert to the professional game gets his career underway.
Matt Healy and Craig Ronaldson have moved from the All-Ireland League side into Connacht’s set-up successfully in recent seasons, with flanker Charlie Butterworth the most recent Lansdowne player to pick up a provincial contract.
The 23-year-old is in his first week of pre-season training with Ulster, having penned a one-year deal with the northern province last month. For the Wicklow native, this is an opportunity he has worked tirelessly to earn.
After playing for Leinster U18s and U19s, Butterworth narrowly missed out on selection for the U20 squad, and having gone on to study Mechanical Engineering at DIT, the dream perhaps faded briefly.
Integral involvement in Lansdowne’s Ulster Bank League-winning squad in 2012/13 opened Butterworth’s eyes again, with his impressive form a vital part of the Dublin club’s success.
At the beginning of last season, I had an idea that I wanted to try and make a career out of rugby,” explains the back row, who is predominantly an openside but is comfortable in the six shirt too.
“I said it to Mike Ruddock, I said it to Lansdowne, and they said they’d give me a hand with whatever they could. I suppose it helps so much when you’ve got a club like Lansdowne and a coach like Mike helping you.”
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Butterworth has been a professional player for at least the last year in many regards, opting to dedicate himself to training full-time after leaving college. The tutelage of former Grand Slam winner Ruddock at Lansdowne was key to building the flanker’s mindset.
“He’s brilliant. He’s definitely one of the best coaches I’ve ever had; he really knows how to get the best out of everybody. He opened my eyes up to a more professional approach to rugby. That’s when I realised I might want to give it a shot.”
The strong gym culture at Lansdowne has been an aid in Butterworth securing a professional deal too, with his physical prowess having stood out in the Ulster Bank League. Former hooker David Toomey was an important figure in sparking that ethos.
Matt and Craig are two good examples of what a bit of work in the gym can do. Dave was the one who kicked it all off, made an atmosphere in the gym where the lads wanted to come in and get working.
“Once you get a few guys in there, everyone seems to follow. I think it made a big difference to us the year we won the AIL. We seemed to have a bit of an edge over other teams physically.
The fact that Butterworth’s club teammate and fellow back row Clive Ross – cousin of Ireland prop Mike – has joined him at Ulster on a trial basis for the next two months is a further credit to Lansdowne’s ability to prepare players for higher levels.
Other AIL sides have caught up swiftly, admits Butterworth, but he now feels ready for the challenge of training with the likes of Rory Best and Chris Henry, whose work-rates the younger flanker will look to learn from.
Initially, Butterworth and his agent were looking at a move to the English Championship, while he had previously trialled at Connacht, before the “surprise” offer came Ulster. Now the 23-year-old is looking to settle as quickly as possible and start senior games.
“For the first week, I just wanted to get in there and get all the newness out of the way and settle in, then set my targets from there,” says Butterworth.
But before I even got up here, I wanted to push and see if I can get some games in the first team, especially when a few of the lads are away with the autumn internationals and the Six Nations period. Hopefully I’ll get a shot there.”
While he was originally signed by the now departed David Humphreys, Butterworth says the recent behind-the-scenes changes “don’t worry me too much” and he is looking forward to learning from Les Kiss, who arrives back with the Ireland internationals in a week and a half.
By then, Butterworth will be fully integrated into the Ulster way, on and off the pitch. He is sharing accommodation with prop Bronson Ross just five minutes away from Ravenhill, excited by the prospect of playing in the famous stadium.
“Yeah, we’re well set up for the year,” agrees Butterworth.