Brad “Patches” Houlahan and Ross Kennedy

If you’re familiar with Old Boys-University, you’re probably familiar with the man they call Patches.

He’s about as close as it gets to being an icon of his beloved rugby club. Whether it be down at The ‘Bridge after a match, at Nairnville Park, or at the early days of pre season training, Patches is almost certainly present helping the club out in some capacity.

This man they call Patches is Brad Houlahan – a long-time servant of OBU who has contributed to the Club through a range of roles, including managing the men’s and women’s Premier sides.

It was way back in 2003 when Patches began his tenure at OBU, arriving at the Club largely thanks to practical work he had to complete for his studies.

“In 2003 I did a work experience at the Wellington Rugby Union for the year as part of my studies (Sports Business Graduate Diploma) and I thought I should start actively following a club. So I supported OBU because I went to Wellington College and I knew a few people who I went to school with who were playing Prems.

“The next year I got involved – I did the scoreboard at the Basin at the Prems games and then in 2005 I started managing, well, Senior 1s in those days, but now Prem Reserves… I did that for three years and managed the Women’s team for three years and then another stint in Prem Reserves and now I’ve been with the Prems since 2012… It’s been fun,” proclaims Houlihan.

Anyone new to OBU or Wellington club rugby in general may know the Club as one of the more dominant ones in the city. The Billy Goats, after all have won the Swindale Shield for the past two years and the Jubilee Cup for two of the past three years while the Impalas made the final of the Victoria Tavern Trophy in 2017, though that standard of performance hasn’t always been the case.

In fact, the Goats were the only winless team in the 2005 Swindale Shield and won just one game in their 2009 Swindale Shield campaign, so it’s fair to say Houlihan has seen it all.

“[OBU] has changed heaps [but] we’ve always had that ‘third half’ – we’ve always been really good at that – and I remember people from Wellington Rugby used to say to me ‘Gosh, I wonder what The Cambridge would be like if the Prems won a game,” Patches says with a chuckle.

“When people like Trapper, Paddy Gough, Dan Keith and all those sorts of guys got involved and built it up with Colts quite a few years ago it filtered up and the Club, over time, has got a lot stronger on the field. And not just the Prems being stronger, but all the way through the grades. We’re competing for trophies in every grade which I think is fantastic.”

Patches isn’t content at where the Club is at just yet, however, and sees OBU’s relationships with Victoria University and St Mary’s College as ways the Club is continuing to improve.

“I think it’s good that the relationship with Victoria University is getting stronger. That’s great, in terms of facilities, OBU Academy, the scholarships and all that.

“I’m also quite excited about the relationship that’s been developed with St Mary’s. That’s exciting because there’s never really been a strong relationship with a girls secondary school in Wellington.”

Though there is one real area for improvement that Patches identifies.

“The one challenge we have is getting volunteers. Part of the challenge for OBU is players play and then they leave town for work, or whatever, but the challenge is finding people with specialised skills to do the different things and to cash in even more on the opportunities that we have.

“We have awesome coaches and managers across the grades but we have a small group of volunteers that do the off-field stuff.”

Regardless, Patches see OBU as a club in great hands and has plenty of reason to be excited for what is to come in 2018.

““I think the two main things from the Prems’ point of view are the young players that are coming through – the school leavers – some of which have played Prems already I can’t wait to see what guys like Tai (Neli),Taine (Plumtree) and all the new school leavers do in the Goats jersey. I also think it’s exciting that there are guys that have been at the Club that left but have come back since. So the older heads like Zeke [Sopoaga] and Greg Mullany, they’ve both come back which is exciting because they’re instant old heads. We’ve also got the majority of last year’s team sticking around, as well as Jamie Williams quality coaching and management team which helps create the environment for the Goats to do well in.”

Three games into the season, it again looks like the Billy Goats will be one of the teams to beat though Patches is wary of the challenges that come with that.

“Every team is gonna be up for all the games against us. We’ve got the target on our backs. It’s a different thing being the hunted, rather than the hunters.”

Matt Twort