By rights, Adrian D’Arcy’s season should have ended on February 25th. Clontarf were beating Lansdowne under lights on the Aviva back pitch when he suffered a grade 2 MCL tear. An estimated 12-week recovery period. His specialist and others all told him his season was over.
As he has decided this is his last season, the 31-year-old flanker had seemingly played his last game for the club where he and his twin brother, the Clontarf captain Matt D'Arcy, had first begun playing mini rugby at the age of five.
For sure that stiffened his resolve to defy the prognosis. So too did his experience in 2015-2016, when tearing his hamstring in the last game of the regular season and so missing out on Clontarf’s wins in the semi-final and final over UCD and Cork Con respectively.
“To be honest I was delighted with the result of the MRI scan. I thought it was going to be an ACL. Grade 2 gave me a chance to get back. It’s my last season with Clontarf. I call it ‘The Last Dance’ so I said I’d dance on one leg if I had to. But seriously, not many people thought I’d get back but I had to, no matter what.
“The team I have in Clontarf is absolutely exceptional and it was just going day to day, and week to week, making sure I did all the right things.”
In a brace for four weeks, he took half-an-hour naps after work in the belief it would help, bought an electric muscle stimulator online to limit muscle wastage and then, well, hard work.
“There were some days I was in the gym for two hours but it was pretty easy to do when I knew what was at stake.”
Last Saturday, D’Arcy returned to play a prominent role in Clontarf’s impressive 29-13 win over Cork Con in front of an estimated 2,500 people at Castle Avenue, so earning them a place in Sunday’s Energia All-Ireland League final against Terenure at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 3pm).
His decision to retire after the final is accentuated by his marriage to long-term girlfriend, Sue Campbell, next August and the desire to focus on his career. D'Arcy has been working with World Rugby since 2017, initially on the Sevens series and the Women's Rugby World Cup. He's now a digital marketing manager, a role which "looks at content programming, fan acquisition and fan engagement. Basically we're looking to get as many fans into the game of rugby as possible."
His job has also facilitated his desire to play AIL rugby for a decade albeit now is the time to call it quits.
“I’ve been around for ages,” he says with a chuckle. “I’m too old. I love the game. I love Clontarf. I’ve played rugby and cricket, and it’s always been a massive part of my life. When I was younger I thought, ‘I’d love to play for Ireland’ but when I think about it really I just wanted to play in the ‘Bull Ring’ constantly,” he says of the main pitch at Castle Avenue. “That was my dream.”
As any club player knows, the commitment has been huge. Monday: gym, Tuesday: training, Wednesday: gym, Thursday: training, Friday: get the body right, Saturday: matchday, enjoy the night, and Sunday: recovery day.
He’s no regrets. He grew up on Vernon Avenue, less than a five minutes’ walk to Castle Avenue, beside the Belgrove shop, which “I frequented regularly for the jelly sweets”.
His dad, Denis, was PRO for years in Clontarf, and he and Matt followed their older brothers Oran, who now lives in Australia, and Connor up to Castle Avenue the first chance they could.
“You couldn’t get us away from the place. We played cricket as well so it was pretty much 365 days a year in the club. Most people might think that’s a little bit boring but we loved it.”
Oran played a little for the firsts and Connor was more of a cricketer, while D'Arcy played rugby and, until only three years ago, cricket too. Opposing D'Arcy in the Terenure backrow on Sunday will be Jordan Coghlan, a close friend and cricket team-mate with Clontarf and Ireland at an Under-19s World Cup a dozen years ago when captained by current Irish captain Andy Balbirnie. Coghlan was a fast bowler capable of hitting the mid-80s. "He was feisty and aggressive, and he could bat as well," says D'Arcy, who was the wicketkeeper cum batsman.
“Good old Jordo. We’ve been very good friends my whole life but we can’t help but look up and laugh when we’re playing each other, just because he knows he’s going to give me a good hit and he knows that I’m going to give him a good hit as well. The two families are really close.”
Whereas Coghlan went to Clongowes, D'Arcy played with Belvedere College before returning to Clontarf to be part of a pretty special under-20s team that won the Leinster League in the second year and featured current team-mate Mick Kearney, Mick McGrath, Collie O'Shea and a certain Tadhg Furlong.
The team was coached to play heads up by Ben Gissing and Justin Wilson, the former All Blacks Sevens player.
D’Arcy graduated to the firsts in 2013-2014, when a breakthrough AIL title followed without recourse to playoffs. On the final day Tarf beat Ballynahinch to finish a point above Old Belvedere, who slipped up away to Garryowen on the last day. “The celebrations were absolutely top class,” says D’Arcy.
Two years later came a second title, albeit his torn hamstring meant he missed the playoffs, so he watched the final from Spain, where Sue’s sister, Sarah-Jane, was getting married.
“I was overjoyed for the lads but this time I said: ‘I’m not letting that happen again’.”
So, The Last Dance will be the final.
“It’s the final of finals really, isn’t it? It’s north Dublin v south Dublin, it’s Terenure v Clontarf. It’s two form teams. You look at Castle Avenue and Lakelands last week and both places were rocking. So it’s going to be a cracking final.”
A winners’ medal would be a nice way to sign off.
“You’d be mad to say you hadn’t thought about that. To finish off with a win, with my mates, would be fantastic but what I really want to do is make sure I enjoy the day. I’ve been in a few of these finals and what you really need to do is focus on moment by moment, enjoy every aspect, the bus to the Aviva, walking out on to the pitch, the challenging parts of the game that will definitely come and the parts where you’re in the ascendancy. And don’t look past them or look for the ref to be blowing his whistle, because all that matters is the moment that you’re playing and taking advantage of those moments.”