Cork's Sweetnam opts for switch to rugby

Tue, Oct 2, 2012, 01:00

CORK HURLING has lost one of its brightest young talents to rugby. Darren Sweetnam has signed professional terms with the Munster Academy having impressed at fullback during the recent interprovincial under-20s campaign.

“He rang me the other day to tell me he has been offered a Munster contract,” confirmed Cork hurling manager Jimmy Barry Murphy yesterday.

“All I could say was best of luck to him. We are sorry to lose him but that’s life; a young and talented player like Darren is entitled to make his mark in a professional game.”

A serious hurling prospect, Sweetnam’s 6ft 2ins, 84-kilogram frame, aided by natural athleticism, makes him a potential graduate to the senior Munster squad. He enters their system in the first of a three-year academy pathway.

Sweetnam’s loss to Cork hurling can be compared to Setanta Ó hAilpín joining the Carlton Blues AFL club in Melbourne not long after impressing in the 2003 All-Ireland final loss to Kilkenny.

Ó hAilpín has returned on occasion to play for his club Na Piarsaigh but the 29-year-old has yet to feature again for Cork alongside elder brother Seán Óg.

Granted, Sweetnam will still be based at home but the Munster contract prohibits him playing Gaelic games, due to the risk of injury, and that includes lining out for his club, Doheny’s.

The 19-year-old was the first Doheny’s man to represent Cork. Unable to nail down a berth in Barry-Murphy’s starting line-up this summer – he was also sitting his Leaving Certificate – he did score a point when coming off the bench in August’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Galway.

London Irish and Ireland scrumhalf Tomás O’Leary is a previous example of someone with deep-rooted Cork hurling ties to make the switch into professional sport. O’Leary’s father Seánie is considered one of the most lethal corner forwards to represent Cork, winning four All-Ireland’s and nine Munster titles in a storied career that spanned from 1971 to 1984.

Tomás captained Cork to an All-Ireland minor title in 2001 and seemed destined for a senior hurling career. Moulded into a scrumhalf by Dolphin RFC, O’Leary got a full Munster contract in 2005 and by 2007 had dislodged Peter Stringer at provincial and international level. He has since won 24 Test caps and made 127 appearances for Munster before this summer’s move to London Irish.

Sweetnam has also represented Ireland under-16s at hockey.

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