IT has been a tough old season for Glasgow Hawks. They currently sit third from bottom of the Tennent’s Premiership, level on points with Musselburgh – but ahead due to their in-game points differential – and one point ahead of bottom side Edinburgh Academicals, who have two games in hand.
After the disappointment of not being awarded a Super6 franchise, there was a massive squad overhaul at the end of the 2018-19 season. Over 20 players left, with 19 new faces arriving, one of which was from just down the road at Glasgow Academicals in the shape of back-rower Ryan Sweeney.
The recently turned 22-year old, in his final year of an Economics degree at Glasgow University, has crossed the whitewash five times so far in this league campaign (cruelly denied his sixth against GHA in their most recent encounter, when the ball was illegally kicked away from his feet at the back of a scrum as he went to dot down), and has not looked out of place in a Hawks pack which prides itself on its physicality.
At 6ft 1ins and just over 100kg, he’s built more like a Sam Simmonds, or indeed former Hawk Matt Fagerson, than most of the behemoths of the modern game, and is equally adept as that pair at running through his opponents or smashing them backwards when in defence. He revels in the tough stuff.
And that’s exactly how Hawks’ have utilised him this season, with the No 8 having been on their radar for a while.
“When Fin Gillies was coach, he had messaged me a few times,” says Sweeney. “After my first season at Accies, I got a phone call asking if I’d be interested, but I wanted to stay a bit longer as a loyalty thing and get more experience of senior rugby.
“Come my third season I was building up more of a leadership role, got made vice-captain, so I thought I’d do that season, and after that: ‘if they ask again, I’ll go join’. Luckily enough Hilly [current head coach Andy Hill] gave me a call and I was happy to go for it.
“He [Hill] has been a massive help. On an individual basis, because he played the same position, he’s taught me a lot.”
The nearly men of Balgray
Of the 27 league points that Hawks have accumulated this campaign, six have come from losing bonus-points, twice as many as any other side. In the last five home matches, they’ve won once against Edinburgh Accies, and lost the other four by a combined aggregate of six points – one point against GHA, Jed-Forest and league-leaders Marr, whilst the gap was a whopping three points against Selkirk. They’ve been agonisingly close on so many occasions.
“Hilly always says we’re not a team that’s used to winning, and we play against teams that know how to win,” says Sweeney. “It gets frustrating sometimes. Against Marr, at home, we were ahead for most of the game, but then knocked on at kick-off and they won a penalty. It’s all about composure.
“Against Jed, [where Liam Brims missed a last-ditch touchline conversion to win it] we had penalty advantage but didn’t push it towards the posts. In the heat of the moment you kind of forget what the score is, we just knew we needed a try. But hindsight’s a great thing.”
Hawks have three games left in the campaign to secure their Premiership safety. First up is Hawick at home this coming Saturday, who they managed to keep try-less on their own patch in a gutsy 6-10 victory back in mid-October. “I was sore for days after that one, it was all defence,” recalls Sweeney.
Then there is a trip into Ayrshire to take on Marr at their fearsome Fullarton fortress. Sweeney – confident, but in no way arrogant – welcomes the challenge.
“It will be brutal, but I’m excited for it, I think a lot of the boys are,” he says. “We’ve still got something to show. That’s the thing with this league, you just don’t know what’s going to happen. We lost a few games [earlier in the season] then played Marr at home, thinking we might get humped, and we should have won it.”
The final fixture, away to current bottom side Edinburgh Academicals, could prove vital. Hawks won convincingly at Balgray, but Sweeney was quick to point out they are taking nothing for granted.
“We’ll still need to work, they lost when they were missing a few players, now they’re back to full strength it’ll be a tough game,” he says.
Looking beyond the current season, Sweeney has an open mind about where his rugby journey will go next. “I’d love to go and play at the highest level I could play at, whether that’s Super6 (he’s been training at Ayrshire Bulls and played in their recent friendly match against Newcastle Falcons) or even further,” he says.
But first things first, there is a relegation battle to be fought.
Five for Fun:
Favourite Band: Bicep
Favourite crisps: Prawn cocktail Walkers
Currently binge-watching: The Witcher
Favourite player: Beauden Barrett
UFC/Boxing match entrance music: “Roy Keane” by Brame & Hamo