11 March 2018 / Club News

Farewell Jack Condy. One of the best.

Last week, the grim news emerged that Jack Condy has been forced into early retirement.


This news is personally heart-breaking for Jack and a shock to all his friends and supporters at Penallta and the Scarlets.


Jack became a full time professional aged just 20, when the Llanelli Scarlets signed him to their stellar back row. The signing raised eyebrows at the time, not least because the Newport Gwent Dragons had conspired to miss the ability of the outstanding Gwent loose forward of his generation. Jack went from winning the Silver Ball final with Penallta in May 2015 to becoming a full time professional by July. His meteoric rise coming as no surprise to those who’d witnessed his wonderful natural talents.


Jack joined Penallta when he was 11, brought to the club by the late Wayne Pritchard. A good player as kid, he was among a superb age-group. By the time Jack and his contemporaries reached youth level, Penallta’s youth coach Stevie Richards had one of the finest youth squads imaginable on its hands.


Nowadays, Stevie is Penallta’s senior Head Coach, a job he was always destined to do. Before that, he’d dedicated many seasons to cultivating a strong youth side. Not just coaching it, but developing a culture that has been critical to Penallta’s success. Stevie understood early on the importance of preparing youth players for higher level senior rugby. Stevie had played in the 2008 Division 1 in and saw the likes of Joe Merriman flown green into the side against ex-international players aged 18. Joe did well, but it was a hell of an ask. Stevie realised that Penallta could no longer afford to produce talented young players who were underdone prep-wise when it came to the big step up. He knew it was time to professionalise. His goal was to develop the best mini, junior and youth sections in Wales. The Holy Grail was to win the Welsh Youth Cup.


Success attracts good players. There’s no better local PR than to have a reputation as the best youth set-up about. Stevie created that in spades, and the titles starting coming. All that eluded him was the icing on the cake; the biggest prize of all: the Welsh Youth Cup title. It became his Holy Grail and the Grail for all the players and support staff around him. Stevie’s sides had suffered agonisingly near misses with Gavin Jones’s and then Rhys Stephens’s squads, making his desperation for glory even more acute. Destined for senior coaching or not, Stevie wasn’t moving up without winning that youth cup first.


And then along came Jack Condy’s Class of 2014.


Approaching his final year of youth rugby, Jack was an obvious captain. He was chosen to lead the side in what would be Stevie’s final tilt at Welsh Cup glory. The squad put together that year was amassed with talent. Joe Scrivens was vice-captain with the likes of Lewis Barnett, Elliott Keep, Ryan Davies and Arwel Robson outside him. Matthew Flanagan was at scrum half. All of those boys have gone on to play Premiership rugby and more.


In the pack, the likes of Ellis Shipp, Max George and Rhys Fitzgerald were also destined for the big time. Even the bench was filled with players who’ve won the National Plate with Penallta’s senior side, like Gezza Dallimore, Lewis Alexander and Matthew Brewer. But Jack Condy was the big draw.


Jack is a local boy from Aberbargoed. He comes from a close-knit, supportive family who watched with pride as his game developed. He grew up with Scrivs and went to school with him. They were both as academically gifted as one another, in that their only realistic career prospects were a rugby career or crime. Jack has always has been a big boy but it is rare to develop a player who has all the raw physical materials. He has one of those necks your Nan would take recoil at knitting a scarf for. It’s common to get guys as thick-set and naturally strong as that at pro-level, but not at ours. Added to his size he has that fundamental attribute that marks someone out for the top: he’s fast. Proper fast.


Big, strong and fast in itself is usually enough to make it in the modern game. But Jack has the skills too. He could easily play in the centre. I remember seeing him play at junior level and he could pass off both hands, travel with the ball with poise. Scoring tries for fun. He could even eat more hotdogs than Omelette.


But even with those wonderful ingredients, his biggest core skill is his natural leadership. Jack is a born captain. He is a big character and a nice boy; vocal, funny, approachable and a great friend amongst a great bunch of friends. Like all the other Penallta boys who’ve gone on to bigger things, he’s properly down-to-earth. Jack is the victim of as much piss-taking as the next bloke, and he takes it well, even if you diss the vintage caravan he bought off Gumtree.


Last Chrismas, during the run-up to the panto, Jack came to all the rehearsals. He wasn’t even in it. He was just a local professional rugby player who wanted to help and be a part of the fun (Scrivs said he was only there for the late night pizza). Eventually we joked we’d given him a job on security, protecting superstars like Jo Griff. Looking back we should’ve written him into the script. He could’ve played Shrek’s son and saved us buying a costume. His support around the shows demonstrated the type of guy he is.


Under Condy’s leadership the Class of 2014 stood on the shoulders of giants. Stevie Richards’s Holy Grail was not only reached, it was achieved by Blitzkrieg. The youth side won every single game of the 2013/2014 season, many of them by half time, winning an unprecedented eight titles. Jack lifted the trophy in every competition the side entered. Condy was brilliant in the Welsh Youth Cup final at the Millennium Stadium, where his side saw off a gutsy Gilfach Goch. Condy scored the third try of the game and punched the cup into the air in front of the Penallta’s delighted fans. The Grail was well and truly achieved.


The beauty of having such a brilliant youth team, particularly one full of players entirely disregarded by the Dragons Academy, is they all progress to senior level at their home club. Stevie stepped up to coach the seniors with Matthew Tucker and the Class of 2014 came with him. Condy was snapped up by Cross Keys, but niggly injuries meant he played for the Pitmen. After a tricky start to the season he found his stride. Penallta went on to win the Division 1 East title for the first time and then played superbly to win the club’s second Silver Ball.


You can always gauge the quality of a player by how he does when his team is up against the best opposition. Those of us who witnessed Jack’s performances in the Championship play off against Beddau and then the Silver Ball final knew that Condy would go on to big things. He had found his game at senior level and was unstoppable in those two games. A rampaging, intimidating force of nature, outplaying experienced blokes. His try against Ystrad Rhondda was something George North would be proud of. Skill power and pace to round the full back. From a Number 8. As much as us Penallta supporters loved him we knew we wouldn’t be hanging on to him for long. We left the Silver Ball final that day thinking it would be his final appearance for the club.


The Scarlets signed Jack almost immediately after that game, and his family, friends and supporters were understandably proud. This past few seasons the Scarlets are a side causing the great Carwyn James absolutely no reason to turn in his grave. The style of rugby they play is lovely to watch and their performance against Munster last May was arguably the best performance I’ve ever seen from a Northern Hemisphere side. No Welsh region is doing a better job in bringing through raw young talents: the Scarlets were the perfect fit for Jack.


Early on, Jack made an impression and around Christmastime in 2015 it looked as though he was on the verge of a breakthrough. Wales Online were mentioning Condy’s name as ‘one to watch’ and there was even forum-talk of a call up to the wider Wales squad. The Condy star was in such ascendancy the ice cream van in Aberbargoed was considering naming a fudge cake after him.


But the graveyard of the sporting world is littered with the ashes of ‘might’ve beens’ and Jack’s career was cruelly interrupted by injuries. First he suffered a shoulder injury which required surgery, and then his old knee problems flared up. Like so many before him, Jack was playing whilst not fully fit. He was running on a swollen, aggravated knee, rehabbing more often than training. The doctors did their best to get to the bottom of it, but as time elapsed Jack’s struggle to get fit was outweighing his ability to play at his powerful best. With the help and support of the professionals around him, and after two years of rehab-misery, he has reluctantly been forced to call it a day.


Jack said the Scarlets made him feel incredibly welcome in a comfortable rugby environment. The stories about the Scarlets’ dealings with young players are really encouraging; they seem to have the knack of looking after young players and managing to get the best out of them. They are overachievers in the pro-game, and we like to think we mirror much of what they do at Penallta. Playing exciting, expansive rugby with boys developed in-house. It’s such a shame that Jack wasn’t able to stay fit and be part of the great things the region will surely go on to do.


Jack goes for surgery within the next couple of weeks where his knee will be broken up and put back together, effectively ending his hopes of ever again being a professional rugby player.


Most people would wait for the operation and spit blood at the Gods of sporting misfortune. But Jack hasn’t done that. He didn’t want that Silver Ball to be the last time he pulled on the blue and gold. So instead he made himself available for one last game for Penallta. Yesterday he captained the Pitmen and played alongside his old friends against a high quality Brecon side. As he routinely does, Jack scored the decisive try to gain a 17-10 win. Jack can now go for his op knowing if yesterday was to be the final time he graces a rugby field, he’s come full circle.


Jack Condy is above all else ‘one of the boys’. The age group he grew up with are not just a bunch of remarkably gifted rugby players but they are a lovely bunch of boys too. If there’s a table in Penallta’s middle room to be danced on naked then Condy’s butties are usually the ones doing it. I’ve no doubt his injuries have cost him a Welsh cap. Probably many Welsh caps. He is a player with explosive, coruscating talent. Amid the heartache of a future robbed by injury, it will be the boys who keep him philosphical and happy. Just look at the fun they were having last night!


Let’s hope the operation goes well, and the big man hopefully makes it back on the field as a future full-time Penallta captain. It was a role he was destined for until his supreme talent got in the way and took him to bigger things. It was a privilege to watch him on Saturday, playing for Stevie and the boys he grew up with, and doing what he’s always done best: leading and winning.


This very likely will be a sad and sentimental farewell to one of Penallta’s greatest products. But somehow, I’d never write Jack Condy off.


*Photo of Jack Condy lifting the Welsh Youth Cup at the Millennium Stadium in 2014, kindly supplied by Terry Matthews.

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