Darragh Fanning takes the long route home to Leinster
Winger’s emergence with Leinster highlights the talent available in the club game
Leinster’s Darragh Fanning in action against Ulster. The winger admits he had almost given up on the professional dream. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
If at first you don’t succeed and all that. Darragh Fanning has kept trying and, in finally breaking into the Leinster team at 26 years of age, the Dubliner has taken one of the more circuitous routes, via St Mary’s, Connacht, Tuggeranong Vikings in Canberra and St Mary’s again, to his province’s first team.
Not that he’s a complete novice at this level, having played eight games with Connacht in 2010-11 before Christmas before appendicitis pretty much ended his campaign. Budgetary limits meant they could not keep him on, although he doesn’t betray any resentment.
Fanning was not, by his own admission, weighed down with offers, so when his former St Mary’s coach Shaun McCarthy offered him the chance to go to Australia he snapped at it. He enjoyed Australia so much that he went back for a year and played semi-professional rugby with Tuggeranong Vikings before returning to Dublin for the second half of last season with St Mary’s.
“I loved my time there, but I got lucky when I came back that Joe Schmidt saw a couple of my games last season and got me involved in some of the A stuff at the end of last season. Then Matt (O’Connor) took me in on a training deal at the beginning of this season, and he and all the staff have been great.”
Having also broken into the Irish club side last season, Fanning’s timing was good too, given the departure of Isa Nacewa, Andrew Conway and Fionn Carr, the delayed returns of Rob Kearney and Zane Kirchener, and niggling injuries to Luke Fitzgerald, Fergus McFadden and now his St Mary’s team-mate Darren Hudson.
Originally signed on a training contract, after a couple of pre-season friendlies Fanning signed a short-term contract until January. One of the few downsides is his reduced role as captain at St Mary’s.
He’d given up on emulating his father Declan in playing for Leinster, whom he supported as a child, although he wouldn’t have stopped playing. “Any of the lads who know me will tell you I will probably try to play for Mary’s until I’m 40 so I’ll never walk away but I had pretty much given up on the professional dream. If you had turned around to me, even eight weeks ago, and said ‘you are going to play two friendly games and two Rabo league games for Leinster’ I would have laughed at you. There was not a chance of that happening so, to an extent, I had given up on the dream.”
Revelling in Leinster’s uber professional machine, he welcomes the arrival of Lote Tiqiri, and had it not been for this unexpected development, he’s not sure what he’d been doing.