Above image, left to right: Connor ’21 and Brendan ’23 Buckley help carry the Iona rugby legacy forward.
More than just a game
It’s about determination, excellence, brotherhood and grit. Few things epitomize the Iona experience quite like rugby, whether on the field or off.
“Rugby is an Iona sport,” said Christian Averill ’94. “Just look at our motto – Fight the Good Fight. You don’t have to look much further than that.”
“But it’s very grassroots,” added Neil Hogan ’91. “You almost don’t even know it’s there unless you know it’s there, then you realize how influential it is.”
Formed as a club sport at Iona in 1977, the initial team competed mostly against local men’s clubs because there weren’t many colleges with rugby programs at the time, according to former players. Today, the game has evolved – and so has the team.
Now, Iona is renowned as one of the best rugby schools in the nation, competing against major programs such as Army, Navy, Notre Dame, Indiana and Clemson, to name a few. Playing in front of thousands at the team’s annual Homecoming game is always a highlight.
“Big schools really want to play against us because we host a great game,” said Paul Burke, who worked with Bruce McLane from 2013-2020 to take the program to the top tier in the nation before taking over as head coach in 2021. “Especially at Homecoming, we could get up to 5,000 people watching, and there’s nothing like that feeling.”
Carrying the legacy forward are players like Brendan ’23 and Connor ’21 Buckley, brothers from Rockaway Beach, N.Y. Connor Buckley, formerly team captain, is currently competing professionally for Rugby New York, the 2022 Major League Rugby Champions. At the same time, he also still supports Iona as an assistant coach. Following in his brother’s footsteps, Brendan Buckley is now team captain.
“This is my final year here, but I’m most excited for the younger guys because the program’s really going in such a good direction,” said Brendan Buckley, noting Iona’s huge win over Army this past spring to make the 2022 Collegiate Rugby 7s Championship Final 4. “Beating Army was just incredible. There are so many words to describe it, but every time I went out there, I got chills.”
As the players thrive, many are eager to encourage and support their continued growth on and off the field. Notably, Christopher Durnan, whose son Chris is on the team, recently made a $500,000 gift to support the rugby program and create a new weight room at the Bronxville campus.
“Everyone involved in the rugby program, from the young men who participate to the coaches, works so hard and commits so much of their time. I am honored to be able to support them,” said Durnan. “My investment and support from other alumni helps position the program to continually be ranked as one of the top programs in the country. This makes us all very proud.”
Then and now, the Iona rugby experience remains steeped in service. If ever there was someone who embodied that mission, it was rugby alumnus Patrick Quinn ’06. Diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 30, he co-founded the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and helped raise over
$220 million for research worldwide. Supported by his rugby brothers, he never stopped fighting the good fight. Quinn passed away in November 2020 at the age of 37, but his legacy remains strong at Iona.
“You could write a whole book on Pat,” said Hogan. “He was an inspiration to me as an individual and to all who knew him. Quinn Corner is there for
a reason; everyone passes through that corner of campus. His spirit will live on forever.”
One thing is certain about rugby: it’s so much more than a game. The friends, the life lessons, the opportunities, the network – it all stems from the sport, but there’s no limit to where it could lead.
“Every job I’ve had is either directly or indirectly connected to Iona rugby, and I have friends all over the planet because of it,” said Averill, who has played rugby in eight different countries across three continents. “You have to push through adversity and get back up when you get knocked down, but the hard work pays off. You can get ten times as much off the field as you can on.”