Montels plays his final match nine years after arriving from France

Olivier Montels played his final game for Portadown on Saturday. Pic by Matthew Wickham Photography.
Olivier Montels played his final game for Portadown on Saturday. Pic by Matthew Wickham Photography.

As introductions to a new club go, it was certainly one of the more memorable first impressions.

Olivier Montels arrived in Northern Ireland for the first time as a 24-year-old university graduate keen to broaden his horizons and learn more about the world.

Mark Crozier (centre, Portadown president) before Saturday's penultimate Qualifying League game against Cooke at Chambers Park. From left to right are guests and match sponsors, John Keane (Ardmore), Ken Gibson (Cooke president), Neal Taylor (Hill Vellacott) and Pat McQuade (Ann's Home Care). Pic by Matthew Wickham Photography.

Mark Crozier (centre, Portadown president) before Saturday's penultimate Qualifying League game against Cooke at Chambers Park. From left to right are guests and match sponsors, John Keane (Ardmore), Ken Gibson (Cooke president), Neal Taylor (Hill Vellacott) and Pat McQuade (Ann's Home Care). Pic by Matthew Wickham Photography.

His lift, after landing in Belfast all set for a new life in Portadown, was gentle giant Ernie Liggett.

“My English was not great back then and when I got into the car and saw the size of Ernie I thought to myself ‘if everyone is this big then I’m in trouble’,” said Montels. “There was not much chat for the first half of the journey to Portadown but, of course, I gradually got to know Ernie and found him to be a brilliant guy.”

That arrival was considered by Montels at the time as a chance to spend a year or possibly two away from his homeland of France. On Saturday, almost a decade on from that first impression, Montels confirmed his retirement from Portadown rugby.

The journey from then to now has provided Montels with a host of happy memories, not least of which a life in his adopted country that includes a family and career.

Casting his mind back across those years of representing Portadown’s senior side, Montels can remember the good games, the bad weather and the great friends.

“I played rugby in France as a child then, after university, wanted to get out and experience something different for a time,” he said. “I had a friend, Patrice Bonnargent, who now lives in the Ballynahinch area but previously played for Portadown.

“He set up a link with Portadown and I arrived with the club playing All-Ireland League rugby.

“I worked for a spell in Irwin’s Bakery and have had some amazing times since first coming to Portadown.

“I now live in the Birches area and felt it was the right time to hang up the boots and spend more time with my young family.

“Work commitments mean I miss our final game so took the chance last Saturday against Cooke for one last appearance.

“I do not think I will play again but hope to certainly stay attached to the club and give something back, possibly by coaching.”

Montels’ Portadown career has covered trips to clubs across the island and he counts those experience as his most memorable.

“Rugby has given me so much and, in particular, Portadown and the people around this club,” he said. “People have been so kind over the years and made me feel so welcome.

“Visits to places like Cork, Limerick and Galway have allowed me to see Ireland and the social aspect of the game is something special.

“I may even come back to join in with the lads for pre-season training as I want to stay in shape.

“Rugby in Ireland is so different to back home when, as a child in Lyon, it would be all about the French flair.

“Here it is much more about working to a gameplan and thinking about tactics.

“The training back in France, however, is much more physical, with it non-contact here but all of those differences have been really interesting and part of the whole experience.

“I certainly have good memories, even of those cold and wet days, so am keen to give something back.”