Into the West

 
 

Daniel Keenan talks to Connacht centre Dave McSharry about his time with UCD RFC, his switch to the West, and the importance of Connacht in Irish rugby.

Dave McSharry’s career has reached new heights over the last few months. In October of last year, he scored a try for UCD against Bruff in Division 1B of the All Ireland League. One week later, he was lining up for Connacht in the Heineken Cup against Aviva Premiership leaders, Harlequins.

Fast forward another week, and Dave was lining up against four-time Heineken Cup winners Toulouse. His opposite number was one of the world’s most formidable centres, Yannick Jauzion.

“I got on against Leinster with Connacht, and things didn’t really go my way,” says Dave, “but I got another shot with Ulster and it went a bit better that time. I was lucky that Eric [Elwood] kept faith in me and I got to play in the Harlequins game, at the Stoop. It was some change around from the Bruff game with UCD.

“Toulouse was the next week, and I was opposite Jauzion; that was another big one and it just seemed to keep getting bigger every week.”

Neither game brought victory for Connacht, but a spirited performance from the Westerners looked like it might lift them from their funk, which had seen them lose their previous four games. Connacht would go on to lose their next eight games, before welcoming Harlequins to the Sportsground.

Connacht’s fourteen-game losing streak didn’t look like ending, after a two-point loss to Leinster and an away loss to bottom side Aironi, when ‘Quins arrived in the West. McSharry wasn’t involved in the team due to injury, but was relieved to see the streak come to an end, and for Connacht to get their first ever Heineken Cup win. Their win against ‘Quins essentially put Ulster into the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup.

“All the hard work that had been going in for the last few weeks hadn’t been coming to anything, so it was great to see the lads get a big win, especially in the Heineken Cup with a lot of eyes on them. We did Ulster a nice favour too!”

McSharry originally started as an out-half, playing in the number 10 shirt for Templeogue College through the Senior Cup, before making the switch to centre during a trip to South Africa with the Leinster schools team. It was through Leinster that Dave earned a scholarship for UCD.

“I had gone away to South Africa for the Leinster schools team and when I got back from that, I got started for the U-18s team. I played the Inter Pros U18s and U19s. During that time my brother had been playing all along in UCD, and I’d been up watching his games. I got chatting to John [McClean] who said he’d seen me play a few times with Leinster, and he basically just offered me a scholarship.”

Dave spent two years playing U-20 in UCD and a year and a half playing senior, before switching to the West. His career took a setback during his second year playing U-20s, as he picked up several injuries, hindering his development at Leinster, where he was in the sub-academy. He jumped at the opportunity to join Connacht at the start of the year.

Connacht has always been the forgotten province of Irish rugby. They are the least funded of the four provincial sides, and with the European success of Munster, Leinster and even Ulster, are often overlooked when talk of developing Irish talent is brought up. However, Connacht have revived the careers of players such as Ian Keatley, Sean Cronin and Fionn Carr.

The departure of those players to Leinster and Munster has seen the emergence of new talent at Connacht, as Tiernan O’Halloran, Mick Kearney and Eoin Griffin are just some of the other young Irish players beginning to establish themselves at the province.

“They had a big time influence [on McSharry’s decision to go to Connacht]. When you see how well those lads have done in the last year, with the likes of Griffin, who I’d played alongside the whole way up, and the same kind of lads with Leinster who were not getting a look in.”

Dave believes the Connacht set-up is vital for the future of Irish rugby. He cites the lack of player depth in the Connacht side as the reason for their fourteen-game losing streak, since they didn’t have enough players to cover the number of injuries they accumulated, due to a lack of funding from the IRFU. Connacht U-20s also won the Inter-Pros this year, the underage inter-provincial tournament.

“I watched them [Connacht U-20s] play two games this year. There are some brilliant prospects coming through there. Over the next two or three years we’ll see them come through into both the Connacht team and the Ireland team.

“I think [the Connacht set-up’s] influence is massive. There are three other provinces to choose from, but if they allow the proper funding and everything to go into it, Connacht could be a stronger fourth province. With the amount of young players coming through, they could look at that and realise that there’s an extra pool of players to choose from.”

One of the young Irish talents coming through is Dave’s centre partner, Eoin Griffin. The two were in the same Irish U-20 squad, but saw limited game time together. Dave is happy to be seeing more game time with the Galway man, who was also signed up to a professional contract in December. “I really enjoy playing with Eoin. He’s got a really bright future ahead of him. At U-20 level we always fitted well together and I get on well with him off the pitch, which is important.”

Dave plays down Connacht backs’ coach Billy Millard’s suggestion that he will play for Ireland one day, alongside Griffin, preferring to take each day as it comes. “With how quickly things have turned around for me over the last few weeks, it hasn’t really been something on my mind. I suppose holding onto the twelve jersey each week is what’s keeping me going.

“Over the next few years, maybe I will [think about playing internationally]. It’s great to see Gav [Gavin Duffy], Macca [Mike McCarthy] and Wilko [Brett Wilkinson] and the lads in the Wolfhounds at the moment.” The Wolfhounds could also be a way forward for Dave in the future.

After a string of impressive performances for Connacht, which saw him play six games and score one try, Dave was awarded the Connacht Player of the month for November, and was then awarded with a professional contract with the club.

He still follows UCD and believes that there are several players from the current squad who can make the next provincial breakthrough. “I keep following UCD and keep in contact with the lads all the time. A few of my best friends are playing for UCD and it’s great to see them overturn Trinity in Colours this year after what happened last year.

“There is a lot of young talent coming through there. I played a small bit this year with a few lads and there’s a few strong players coming through: Andy Boyle, Sam Coughlan Murray, James Tracey. And a few lads from Leinster who have got a few games, Luke McGrath is supposed to be very good, and Conor Gilsenan. There’s a huge crop of good players coming through in UCD.”

After such a promising start at Connacht, it seems that Dave McSharry’s venture to the West has been a success. Turning just twenty-two in February, his future looks very bright.

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