Larne Grammar School PE teacher Stephen Snoddy has expressed relief that Euro 2016 hero Gareth McAuley did not follow his advice - to pursue a career in rugby.
McAuley lifted the Green And White Army of fans to new levels of sporting ecstasy on Thursday night when he scored the first of Northern Ireland’s two goals against Ukraine, giving his team its first ever win at a European Championship.
McAuley was nurtured for many of his formative years at the school by Mr Snoddy, who clearly saw the athletic potential in the young man.
In the mid 1990s, he wrote a prophetic report for him, saying: “Gareth continues to show considerable all-round potential. He has a very bright future.”
However, Mr Snoddy laughs when he remembers the career advice he gave the young athlete.
“I tried to encourage him to play rugby - much to his annoyance - because I saw his all-round potential, but did not think he had the pace to make it in football,” he said.
“But it is just as well that [advice] did not work out,” he laughed. The PE teacher reflected that McAuley’s soccer success did not mean his advice was wrong.
“He could have been a good rugby player - who knows - he could have turned out for Ireland versus the Springboks.”
But another teacher at the school, Mark Lambe, made maximum capital out of the career advice, now well known in Larne Grammar lore. After Thursday night’s victory, he tweeted: “It’s a good thing that @G23mcauley ignored Mr Snoddy’s advice to play rugby rather than football! Worked out nicely!”
His good natured jibe was retweeted 171 times and favourited by 215 fans celebrating their historic win. But Mr Snoddy saw the funny and “just laughed it off,” he added.
The school was “delighted” and “over the moon” at the role their former pupil played in Northern Ireland’s victory over Ukraine, Mr Lambe said.
“When we came in this morning everyone was talking about the match, A lot of people around the town were going crazy on social media. It follows closely after the success of another former pupil last year, World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea.”
History teacher Harry McKay coached McAuley in rugby from years one to four, when he captained the Medallion XV.
“He would have scored most of our points. Gareth was always really passionate but always very calm and in control. He was a really good all-round athlete,” Mr McKay said.
He noted that his pace has also improved noticeably since school - especially off the mark. Mr McKay added that McAuley’s father Billy played rugby for Larne, while his sister Carolyn was also a top hockey player at the school.