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Former London Irish rugby star to feature in BBC’s The Apprentice

Former London Irish and Ireland U20s rugby player Conor Gilsenan is bidding for Alan Sugar’s £250,000 investment in the new series of the BBC’s The Apprentice which returned last week.

The sole Irish contender on the show, Gilsenan hails from Mullingar in Co. Westmeath, but currently works as a Sales Executive in London.

A product of the Leinster academy, Gilsenan joined London Irish and made over 70 appearances for the team between 2014-2020.

He also had a spell at Connacht.

The former flanker/ back row captained London Irish in their run to the British & Irish Cup semi-final in 2017. He also played a part for The Exiles in successful promotion campaigns back to the Premiership.

Gilsenan was still with the Exiles when he was forced to retire from rugby in September 2020 after failing to overcome an injury problem.

He is still only 29.

He said at the time: “It is with a heavy heart that I am wrapping up my career in rugby and my time with London Irish.

“A club that quickly became my adopted home over the past six years.

“I have played with some incredible players, built relationships with extraordinary people and represented a special club with great supporters.

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“Thanks to everyone who played a part in my time at Irish, fond memories I will take with me for a lifetime.”

After hanging up his rugby boots, Conor became a sales executive in London at ecommerce group FIS.

One of 16 participants in Alan Sugar’s business reality show, Conor says he has a record for getting deals done and reckons he’ll win the series.

The former flanker/ back row said as he entered the show: “I’m going to be the corporate panther in the boardroom.

“I’m going to get it done, and I’m going to be Lord Sugar’s perfect business partner.”

The BBC website reports that ‘his business idea consists of a fleet of quirky food and beverage vendors targeted at music and sports events.’

Conor has experience in this area as he is a director of the mobile bar 301 Bar which he launched with fellow former London Irish player Topsy Ojo.

But the pub trade is also in Conor’s blood as his parents, Con and Joan, are proprietors of Con’s Bar on Dominick Street in Mullingar.

He is also close pals with fellow Mullingar native Niall Horan.

Gilsenan joined the Leinster Academy straight from attending Clongowes Wood College in Kildare which has produced the likes of Gordon D’Arcy, Rob and Dave Kearney, and Fergus McFadden.

Gilsenan won three school medals during his six years at Clongowes.

He went on to captain Ireland at Under 18, Under 19 and Under 20 level.

However, Conor was disappointed to be released from Leinster after three years.

He was given an opportunity join Connacht on loan for three months before he received an offer to join London Irish for the 2014/15 season.

He told The Irish World in 2017: “I loved the opportunity to go and play in the Premiership. They [Leo and Shane] spoke very highly of the league, so I decided to accept the offer and it’s been great. I’ve had the chance to test myself in a very tough league.

“When I first came over to London I said to myself I wouldn’t just stick to an Irish group [of people] I’d immerse myself in different groups and people and I think I’ve done that. I’ve met loads of cool people and experienced London in full flow.

“There was a handful of Irish people over here that I knew when I came over initially. As I’ve gotten older, and people around my age have got their degrees, there’s more and more moving over, so I’ve now got a great little Irish community and we go and watch Irish bands and whenever Westmeath are playing, we’ll find an Irish pub to watch it.”

Known for his consistent performances in the Exiles’ back row and his leadership qualities, Gilsenan experienced both the highs of Championship-winning campaigns and the bitter taste of twice being relegated back down to English rugby’s second-tier in his time with London Irish.

Much earlier he had shown promise in GAA. Playing for Mullingar Shamrocks, he was good enough to be called into the Westmeath Minor team, but by that stage Gilsenan was already intent on pursuing a career as a professional rugby player.

He would train with the minor team once before he was selected by Ireland Under 18. Forced to choose, he followed his heart and that meant rugby.

“While I love Gaelic it didn’t offer a career path and I had my mind set on being a professional rugby player, so my decision was made for me,” he said.

The Apprentice’s 16th series began last Thursday with an advertising task.

While Conor’s male team lost, Conor was spared being called back into the boardroom.

The Apprentice continues to BBC1 on Thursday 5 January, also available on iPlayer.

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