Tom Daly ready to grab his chance at first Ireland cap with both hands

Connacht’s player of the year hoping Andy Farrell will name him in Japan and USA games

The route may have been circuitous by comparison with a more conventional rugby pathway, but Tom Daly certainly won't grumble as he stands on the threshold of a first Ireland cap. If he can persuade head coach Andy Farrell to give him an opportunity in the upcoming internationals against Japan and the USA, then the elongated timeline will no longer be relevant.

It doesn't matter that Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki are with the Lions or that Garry Ringrose is absent through injury. Daly, Connacht's player of the year, deserves his place in the Irish squad on the strength of consistent excellence, an endorsement of a judgment call by Andy Friend in 2018 to offer the 27-year-old centre what probably constituted a final shot at a professional rugby career.

Fortune’s fickle nature had buffeted the career of the Carlow native from time to time. He won All-Ireland League under-20 and senior titles with Lansdowne in the same season (2015), played for the Ireland Under-20s, made the Leinster academy, captained the Ireland Sevens team and seemed set fair when he broke into the senior provincial team.

When I eventually came back from injury I struggled to get back into the team because these lads had gone so well and earned the jersey

He takes up the story. “I think it was the 2017-2018 [season] that I got my first cap with Leinster and I had a decent year, got about 11 caps, which is quite good given the amount of competition there is in Leinster. To get that in the first year, I was happy.”

Changed landscape

A torn ACL in a pre-season game against Perpignan cost him a significant chunk of the next campaign, and by the time he was fit to return, the playing landscape had changed. He continued: “When you are injured in Leinster there is always going to be younger lads coming through: Conor O’Brien, Jimmy O’Brien, lads like that are going to take their chances; they were playing exceptional rugby that year.

“When I eventually came back from injury I struggled to get back into the team because these lads had gone so well and earned the jersey.”

There weren’t too many offers and Daly contemplated looking at a life outside of rugby that included finishing his degree. Friend’s phone call changed that. “It just happened to be great timing.

“I’ve kicked on really well in the last two years; it’s kind of restarted my career and been the making of it really. [Now] I’m sitting in an Irish camp, which is something I wouldn’t have thought I’d be doing two years ago.”

There's been a lot of info thrown at us, new attack calls, new defence calls, stuff like that, but it's obviously really exciting to be here

His mindset in the Irish camp is positive, drawing on positive feedback. He explained: “I spoke to a few of the lads who had been in before and a few of my coaches in Connacht, and they were saying, ‘you’re there on merit and you’re there because you’ve had an incredible season.’

“So it’s about having that confidence that you are here because you are good enough, and getting in the squad is one thing, but getting into a team and getting that first cap is another thing, and that’s really my goal for the three weeks in here.

‘Good centres’

“I’d love to play in both the games and get caps, but there are four really good centres in here as well, and you’re going to have to train really well and play really well in training to get that opportunity. It is just getting to know detail early, [staying] on top of our homework so we’re able to train as well as we can.

“There’s been a lot of info thrown at us, new attack calls, new defence calls, stuff like that, but it’s obviously really exciting to be here and it’s just about making sure I know all my stuff so I can perform on the training pitch.”

Daly did take some time out over the weekend to watch the Ireland Sevens squad qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. As a former captain he was chuffed.

“Yeah, I played with a good chunk of the originals Billy [Dardis], Jordan [Conroy], Harry [McNulty] and Fitzy [Ian Fitzpatrick]. It was incredible to watch.

"I was joking with Nick Timoney [the Ulster flanker, another of the uncapped players in the Irish camp who also played in the national Sevens side] and we were saying there is no way we would get into that team now. It was class to see what it meant to them and to Irish Sevens to get to the Olympics.

“It was a big goal when we started and we came up short in [the Olympic qualifier] in Monaco five years ago. It’s scary that it was five years ago. This really is the pinnacle of Sevens rugby to get to play in an Olympic Games.”

Daly’s not so far from his own personal summit, something he’ll look to crest in the next fortnight.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer

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