Mack Hansen quickly adapting to Galway life as he seeks to excite Connacht faithful

Former Brumbies wing admits Ireland call would be very tempting after good early form

 

It wasn’t a bad way to mark his home debut. Racing forward he leapt and caught a box kick just inside his own ten metre line above two Bulls chasers. He slipped out of one tackle and eluded another by accelerating towards the left touchline. Faced by the opposition fullback, he briefly feinted to chip ahead before veering inside him and then made the last man swivel 360 degrees by turning one way and the other before diving over the line.

The Clan Terrace went wild and teammates engulfed him. Mack Hansen had announced his arrival. The try extended Connacht’s lead from 17-7 to 22-7, and they went on to beat the Bulls 34-7 in the Sportsground’s first competitive home game with supporters in over a year and a half. A nice way to mark your first game in front of your new home fans.

“Well, yeah, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” admits Hansen with a chuckle. “We got a good home win over a pretty good Bulls team as well. It was good to put on a good show for the fans. We’ve got some diehards here and it would be nice to get the ball rolling with a few more wins for them, and add more and more people to the Sportsground each week.”

Not surprisingly for someone who decided to up sticks and relocate from the Brumbies to Connacht, Hansen appears mature beyond his 23 years. Dry-witted, he’s settled in easily, helped by living with four teammates in Barna on the outskirts of Galway on the Connemara road.

“I’m with Jordy Duggan, Oisín Dowling, Peter Sullivan and Jack Aungier. We all get on really well too. When I heard I was moving in with four other blokes I wasn’t expecting much if I’m being honest but the house is unreal.

“We’re very lucky. I think Jordy coached the owner of the house’s kids. They thought he was a good bloke, which means he must have pulled a trick on them there because he’s not! But no, it’s a great house.”

Thursday was such a lovely day that Hansen was planning on going for a swim. “Obviously it will be a bit chilly but the sun’s out; gotta get the guns out!

“Galway itself has been amazing. A really cool little town, good night life and everyone is really friendly. I’m loving it. It actually reminds me of home a little.”

The distinctive light-coloured headgear stood out again last week in another busy performance. There are old YouTube clips of Hansen as an outhalf in his school days with Daramalan College on a torn up pitch, and stepping off both feet - with a slight hint of a young Stephen Larkham - in darker coloured headgear. He abandoned the latter in his Brumbies’ days.

“I’m growing the hair out and I just started wearing one again to keep the hair out of my eyes. But it feels right. My mum appreciates me wearing my headgear, and my gran as well, as she can spot me on the field!”

His gran, Bettie Hansen, is “definitely” his biggest fan.

“I could have the worst game of my life and I wouldn’t have done anything wrong in her eyes. She’s always been like that for all of us. We’ve got a bit of a sporty family and she’s sports mad.

“She gets up at five in the morning, or whenever the game is on, to watch on the computer. She’s not the greatest whiz on the computer but the family sets it up for her.”

His mum, Diana O’Shea, hails from Cork and his dad, Craig, from Sydney, where Hansen was born before the family moved to Canberra when he was young. His dad played for Manly. “He was a pretty good coach but was a prop and always seemed to get injured, the poor fellah. I didn’t really get anything from him at all! No, he and mum have always been great supporters and a big influence in my career.”

His paternal grandfather played rugby league for Australia and his maternal grandfather played hurling, while his cousins are a mixture of triathletes, basketball players and other sports.

Yet he good-naturedly describes his one sibling, Jake, as “not the most athletic person in the world, unfortunately for him. But he’s a secondrower for Gugahlin Eagles, my club back home, and he’s actually been killing it. He just loves footy and is content to play for fun.”

From the moment Hansen started playing rugby at around seven it became his favourite sport, and in his last year at Daramalan College they went unbeaten all year until losing the final in overtime, one of his favourite years playing footy.

Already in the Brumbies pathway from the age of 12 he was called into the senior set-up straight after school. He played for the Australian Under-20s at the 2018 Junior World Championships, moving to fullback, until switching to the wing at the Brumbies. Fullback remains his favourite position, but his licence to roam at Connacht is akin to being a second fullback.

A place kicker at school and club level, Hansen has also kept that ticking over, and last year landed a match-winning penalty after the siren against the Reds, one of only two place kicks he ever took for the Brumbies.

“I had one just before that which I missed, and it was an absolute sitter. I absolutely shanked it. Then I was lucky enough to get another chance.”

Sweetly struck too, to the right from the ten metre line.

“Every time I tell that story I probably say it’s about 60 metres back but it was probably the best kick I’ve ever kicked.”

Having played in all eight games of an abbreviated Australian Super Rugby season for the Brumbies, he admits moving to Connacht and Ireland wasn’t an easy decision.

At the time (April), Hansen felt the Brumbies were more interested in talking to his roommates. Connacht sent him over an offer and he signed it a week or two later.

Andy Friend spoke persuasively of the brand of rugby Connacht wanted to play and he saw similarities with the Brumbies. “They’re not regarded as a big powerhouse. Having that little underdog chip on your shoulder definitely helps you get up from week to week.”

Whereupon head coach Dan McKellar approached Hansen about re-signing. “I had to drop the bomb that I’d already signed for Connacht. That was a little bit awkward but I think he understood. We’ve got a Wallabies’ back three and I wanted to play more footy. I wanted a chance to show what I could do.”

Quick, with an ability to step off both feet, and versatile, the move should make him a better player.

“Mossy (Lawlor) and all those guys have definitely elevated my game already with my high ball; that was a skill that I really worked on coming over here. Now I want to be a bit more of a presence in the ‘D’ line, just making the right reads. In big games having a real solid defender is more reassuring for everyone on the team.”

Always aware of his Irish background, Hansen emulated his brother in having a matching tattoo of Trinity knots. Ironically, while his uncles and aunts retain strong Irish accents, his mum - who was seven when her family emigrated to Australia - does not.

“She was actually really stoked. She’s not Australian at all, she only has the Irish passport. The same with my dad, they were happy for me to do whatever I wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to experience Ireland, and I haven’t regretted it one bit.”

Being Irish qualified was another attraction to the move, both initially and potentially further down the line. “If that opportunity came up, it would be pretty hard to turn down.”

Hansen met one of his Irish cousins for the first time earlier this week, and intends heading down to Cork to meet more of his relatives.

Today is another landmark, Hansen’s first game at the Aviva.

“We need to start winning. It’s good to put in good performances like last weekend but if you don’t get the points it doesn’t really matter to be honest.”

In this, Hansen shares his teammates’ clear vision of where he wants Connacht to be.

“Just to be winners. We don’t really want to be known as the little guys of Ireland. It’s great to be the underdog but we want to be more respected than we feel we are at the moment. We all want to be winning games and winning trophies. That’s why you play footy.”

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