Leinster’s Darragh Fanning living the dream
St Mary’s captain delighted to have signed a contract until the end of next season
Leinster’s Darragh Fanning escapes a tackle from and Rob Harley of Glasgow Warriors. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Professional rugby is not without its dreams. The story of Darragh Fanning was, before Christmas, a month to month narrative that innocently began as a hopeful punt at the big time.
Noticed by Joe Schmidt at the end of last season, ushered into Leinster ‘A’ and offered a training deal by new coach Matt O’Connor, the winger’s glorious flirtation with Leinster Rugby was to end in January of this year. In Fanning’s head, there would have been no regrets.
It has though, been a season of two halves and while these weeks were to be sworn to the resumption of captain’s duties with St Mary’s College, it’s the blue of Leinster that continues to dominate the 27-year-old’s horizon. The dream lives.
“I said ‘listen I’ll go in for six weeks and at the end of the day if I get a bit of free kit out of it I’ll be happy with that’,” he says warming to the disparity between what was and what is.
After an initial three-month deal, Fanning agreed a contract at Christmas that takes him to the end of the 2015 season with Leinster. The St Mary’s captain has played for his club once since September.
“Better than I ever could have dreamed,” he adds. “Originally it was six weeks. And then the three months was just about ‘well if I get a Leinster cap and a Rabo game or two then that’s brilliant’.
“I try to let everyone know I’m here as much as I can and if at the end of the day I have to head back to Mary’s, at least I know I got a chance to play at that level. Yeah, it’s just kept on going far better than I dreamed. When it came to the end of three months, I was hoping to get to the end of the season. When they offered me that I couldn’t believe it.”
In recent weeks with the string of Leinster players in Six Nations camp, Fanning has been getting game time, although, with Dave Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald and Fergus McFadden to return he knows the value of opportunity. As a result, commitments to the club had to give and Fanning has to believe that in Templeville Road they will see it as an investment in the club’s future. Then again . . .
“Yeah, one game (for St Mary’s) so I got that off my back,” he says. “I was getting a bit of stick. Just a clubhouse captain they were calling me. After a 10 minute discussion with Matty (O’Connor) they let me play against Garryowen earlier in the year. We got the win that day and I got a try as well.
“Did it all in the one game so I think that’s it for the season. I might not go down as the best captain but I’ve a 100 per cent record. It’s brilliant for the club and the club have been brilliant with me since day one. I’ve nearly been apologetic. I felt like I was letting them down but they told me I got a lot of support up there.”
St Mary’s, Connacht, Canberra’s Tuggeranong Vikings, St Mary’s and now Leinster, he’s aware of his fortune and eager to hold what he’s given. A strong, rangy winger he’s also taken strength from the big-name players he admires but must compete against to carve out his own space.
As he watched Ireland beat France last weekend in the club after St Mary’s AIL match against Clontarf, it was difficult to contain rising admiration for his team-mates. His own confidence too was allowed to inflate.
“I’ve just got a string of games and I’ve tried to keep improving. Up my work rate. Involve myself. I think that’s also players getting a bit more confident in me,” he says.
“At the beginning of the season they’d two options and they were hitting the option they were used to whereas now they give me confidence in giving me the ball a bit more. He’s (Matt O’Connor) given me a bit of free range to work as hard as I can off my wing so I’m enjoying it.
“It gives me massive confidence that some of these guys are my team-mates.”
Prior to this season he was veering away from life as a professional player and towards a career in teaching. But he can see the season ahead as clearly as anyone. It’s a World Cup year and international players will be rationed.
Other chances will beckon.