The Killarney-based makers of X-League (pronounced ‘cross’), a limited contact version of rugby league, recently announced a partnership with the sport’s governing body in England. The deal will see international teams compete in a X-League World Cup, which will run alongside the Rugby League World Cup proper in 2021. But how did a sport with Killarney roots go global? Adam Moynihan spoke to the game’s creator, Des Foy, to find out.

 

Hi Des. Thanks for speaking to me.

No problem, Adam.

Can you give me some background on your own career? I believe you played the game at the highest level.

Yeah, I played rugby league from 1980 to ’93. Mostly for Oldham, which is my hometown club. I played for a couple of other clubs as well, Widnes and Huddersfield, and I had a spell in Australia with the Newcastle Knights. I also went on tour with Great Britain to New Zealand, Australia and Papua New Guinea in 1984.

And how did you end up in this part of the world?

Rugby league at the time was sort of semi-professional and most people had jobs as well. I worked for a water company for a few years and around the time I finished playing they were offering us either voluntary redundancy or to move to another office in another town. Me and my wife decided at the time that we’d take the money and run, and we came over here.

My wife’s actually from Sligo originally. She moved to England in her early teens and we met at school. We used to holiday in these parts quite a bit in the summer and we thought it would be a nice place to move. So we got the four kids and came over here in ’95.

25 years ago. So you’re an adopted son by this stage?

I’d like to hope so, yeah! I’ve still got this accent that makes people think that I’ve probably just arrived. But yeah, I’ve lived here most of my adult life.

Tell me about X-League. What is it?

It’s a rugby league variant which is similar to touch rugby and tag rugby. The main difference is that the tackle is made by the defender touching the ball when it’s in the possession of the opposition. Because of that, it introduces a little bit more contact then you normally would get in touch and tag. It’s much closer to the full contact game.

How did it come about initially?

It sort of came about around 2002 when I did a bit of defensive coaching with Declan Kidney at Munster, and a little bit with Matt Williams at Leinster the season before. I was trying to get players to focus on attacking the ball in the tackle. The rugby league tackling style is different to rugby union. In rugby league, stopping the ball is the key thing when you tackle – if you tackle the legs, the ball might still get offloaded so the tackle isn’t complete. So I used it a bit with Munster and when my son was in UCC we were trying to get people to play a bit of rugby league then.

I’m not a big fan of drills so we wanted a game that enabled us to have the feel and timing of a real rugby league match, and also introduce this idea of the defenders focussing on the ball. That’s where X-League came from, really.

You’ve been leading X-League sessions here in Killarney since 2014. Do the rules make it more inclusive than a full contact sport?

That’s very much the case. Personally, I’m in my fifties now so I’m not going to be playing full contact sport of any description! So it has given an opportunity to people like me to keep playing. When we play in Fossa, we have female players, teenagers, lads in their twenties, lads in their thirties, lads in their forties, and then I’m usually the oldest guy!

The reason we’ve pushed it more recently and we’ve changed the name (from EuroTag to X-League) and we’ve got the RFL in England interested is because it’s very inclusive. We came up with this game and it was to try and get people playing a version of rugby league, but we are very much now playing an inclusive version that enables lots of different people to take part.

When you think of rugby, it tends to be men from 18 to 35 and that’s about it. But this is a sport that includes a wider demographic.

You touched on that partnership with the RFL. How significant a step is that for X-League?

I think it’s massive. First of all, they have a budget! They’ll get money out of Sport England over there and finding games that are inclusive and draw people in who had previously gone away from the sport is important. They have a variants officer and he’s going to all the professional clubs to promote the different versions of rugby league. Hopefully we’ll get four or five of them on board this year and maybe more in the future. That’s the plan.  

And there’s a World Cup event on the cards?

Yes, the RFL and the Rugby League World Cup organisation will support us in putting on a competition at the time of the full World Cup in October/November 2021. So we’re planning on doing an event in Sheffield and Doncaster where some of the group games are being played. Over in Warrington there will be a physical disabilities World Cup and up in Newcastle there will be a masters for over 35s.

How many players are involved locally at the moment?

We have around 30 people on our list and we send out the text every week to see who’s available. If we don’t get 10 – if it’s a bad night or people are unavailable – then we don’t play. But we don’t miss many weeks, even when the weather is bad. Of course, new players are always welcome to join us on Thursdays at 7pm in Fossa. It’s a very easy game to get involved in and we’ll be happy to show you the ropes.

 

If you’re interested in taking part in X-League, contact Des on 086 8622522.