Monday 26 June 2017

Champions Cup return the priority for settled hooker

The Big Interview: Tom McCartney

Tom McCartney is looking forward to working under new coach Kieran Keane next season
Tom McCartney is looking forward to working under new coach Kieran Keane next season

Daragh Small

It has been a humbling week for everyone involved in Connacht, and after the shock of hearing that Marnitz Boshoff has lost his father so tragically back home in South Africa, the players need to re-group for a win-or-bust game in Glasgow tomorrow.

Times likes these are often the toughest for the foreign contingent in the Connacht squad, and it's easy to become homesick when you see the harsh reality that has befallen a team-mate.

Tom McCartney is one player who gave up life in Auckland almost three years ago to set up his new home almost 19,000km away in Galway.

So much has happened for him in the meantime - two kids have now arrived on the scene. And with a three-week old baby girl, Millie, the latest to join the McCartney household, Tom is thrilled to have his mother-in-law Kerry visiting to help out at home.

"The first time it's a bit of a shock to the system. When we had Marlon it was definitely really life-changing. But Taryn's mom is over here from New Zealand at the moment for about six weeks and she is helping out a lot," said McCartney.

"Being over the other side of the world when you have no extended family to rely on it can make things tough, especially with a new family. If I am away with the rugby, and my wife is stuck at home with a two-year-old running around as well it can be a pretty hard shift.

"Hopefully it will let us just get a routine going for a few weeks and things will be back to normal then."

It has been a crazy few years for McCartney and the 31-year-old former Blues hooker was a key figure in guiding the first Connacht side in history to lift a piece of silverware when they won the Pro12 title last summer.

He then experienced Champions Cup rugby for the first time this season, and now it's Connacht's main aim to get back there again next season.

They have a tough job on their hands but the Auckland native is up for the battle whether that means qualifying automatically or through the play-off route.

"Obviously the first half of the season was disappointing. There is probably a few different reasons for that. Probably form of players, we got off to a bad start. There has been a lot made of our pre-season," said McCartney.

"But at the end of the day we just didn't play well enough and got caught out. We played some good teams, Glasgow and Ospreys were on fire when we played them. After that we had a period there where we had a lot of injuries which really affects the squad.

Goal

"But Champions Cup qualification is the goal now. We have left a hard run there to get that spot. We just have to take it week by week. If we can take care of our part and keep winning games, if that gets us enough points, we can't control what teams like Ulster and Scarlets can do.

"We can only take care of our end, keep winning and if that's not good enough then we will look back on the first part of the season and be disappointed with that. We would still end up in the play-offs and there is still a possibility. But the first port of call would be to get that fifth spot."

The former North Harbour ITM Cup star made his Super Rugby debut under current Connacht coach Pat Lam for the Blues in 2008.

He went on to make 64 Super Rugby appearances for his hometown-based franchise, before he captained Auckland in the ITM Cup and made his way to Connacht for the start of the 2014-15 campaign.

After he linked up with Lam again, McCartney has gone on to make 59 appearances for Connacht and score four tries between the Pro12 and Europe, in the two-and-a-half seasons since then.

And following on from his two games against Wasps, one against Zebre, and another epic Champions Cup encounter away to Toulouse, McCartney is determined to get back into Europe's top tier again next season.

"We know what we can do when we are clicking. We showed that last year towards the end of the season playing a lot of quality teams and winning games. When we are at our best we can beat anyone. When we are not playing at our best we are in trouble.

"It's exciting going into the run-in. Some of the teams we are playing are up the top of the competition, we have Leinster, Munster, Glasgow and Scarlets in there. It's exciting to get those games towards the end of the season."

Champions Cup rugby is crucial to Connacht's growth as a province, and despite the loss of Lam to Bristol, Chiefs backs coach Kieran Keane has been viewed as the ideal successor.

McCartney is likely to play a massive role under the new boss. He has never worked with Keane closely but he says by all accounts, he is the right man for the job.

"I haven't had a lot to do with Kieran. But I have played in Super Rugby with a lot of guys who he has coached in the ITM Cup. He has always coached teams like Tasman, when I played them, they were really well drilled.

"They were like Connacht - not one of the main teams in New Zealand, but they over-achieved. Guys worked really hard for each other and he brought a lot of those players on to be top quality Super Rugby players.

"If he can come in and build on what Pat has done here, he will add his own bit, and it's exciting in the fact that it is a new coach coming in. Everyone starts on a level playing field. Pre-season is going to be exciting. Everyone has to prove themselves again and try and fight for those positions."

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport