Wednesday 24 May 2017

'I want to push for a place and get better all the time'

Promising Offaly No 2 ready to do battle for starting spot in Lam's side after bright opening

When Shane Delahunt hasn’t got his chance with Connacht, he has featured for AIL side Buccaneers. Photo: Sportsfile
When Shane Delahunt hasn’t got his chance with Connacht, he has featured for AIL side Buccaneers. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Shane Delahunt drives up and down to the family farm between Riverstown and Portumna every day before and after training, and that's his release from the strains of professional sport.

It's a difficult profession at the best of times, and as the 22-year-old Birr native and Connacht hooker becomes more entrenched in the game, he finds refuge in his farming background.

And that's what he looks forward to after his rugby playing days have ended, but in the meantime the former Kilkenny College student wants to leave a mark on the Connacht rugby landscape.

He already went a long way towards that last season when he was involved in Connacht's first ever silverware-winning campaign.

However in 2016-'17, Delahunt is determined to play a bigger role. The Offaly man has played 21 times for Connacht, and scored his first try for the province in their loss to Leinster in the RDS recently.

But that didn't mean much to him when the result didn't go Connacht's way, and now the re-building process begins after their subsequent defeat to Dragons.

Connacht take the field back in the Sportsground tonight where they will look to get back to winning ways against Cardiff Blues, and build momentum ahead of the big European games against Wasps.

They will be two massive occasions for everyone involved at the province, and will likely determine whether or not Connacht qualify from their pool in the Champions Cup.

"If I am called on I don't want there to be any problem with putting me in which at the moment is the case. Hopefully they might pick me for some games, horses for courses, and hopefully they will trust me. It's nice to be that year better," says Delahunt. "I have bulked up a little bit during the summer, just trying to get a bit leaner. But it was good to get back in, although it probably didn't go as well as we wanted and got a little disrupted with games and stuff. But from a fitness side of things it was very good, and we can't be making excuses either.

"Now it's all about getting games, that was my first try in the game against Leinster but the result wasn't great."

Rugby has changed so much in recent years, and the advent of professionalism altered the game entirely. It requires total commitment and any chance to remove yourself from the stress of that is a welcome relief.

"It's nice to get out of the rugby bubble from time to time too, and come home in the evenings, and do a bit of work on the farm or look at stuff.

"Rugby obviously comes first and that's a big part of it. Where I can fit in the farming I fit it in. I enjoy farming anyways and it's what I want to do when I retire, so it's good to have that."

Competitive

With Tom McCartney only back from injury this week, the hooking position has been a competitive area in Connacht in recent games.

Dave Heffernan and Delahunt were the two main candidates fighting it out for the starting berth, and in this campaign both players have the added experience to aid their cause.

Heffernan looked reborn when he gave his lung-busting display in the inter-provincial victory over Ulster in Round 6 of the Pro12, and Delahunt has followed suit.

It's a constant struggle to lock down the jersey with a seasoned campaigner, and up-and-coming talent to contend with, but the Buccaneers clubman revels in the challenge.

And when he doesn't get his chance for Connacht, he has the competitive Ulster Bank League club to line out with.

Brett Wilkinson's side have thrived in Division 1B this season, and they are five points clear at the top of the standings, as they look to become the only Connacht outfit back in the top tier.

Last week's victory over Galwegians cemented their place as the province's leading AIL club, and Delahunt says the ingredients are there for them to go further this season.

"I have played a few games with Buccaneers since the start of the season, and they are a great club to be with. It's good to go back there and Brett Wilkinson is good craic. It's good to get away sometimes, play with them and get game-time under your belt. 

"It's crucial that you get minutes at the start of the season, try and play well and build a bit of momentum for yourself, so you can push for a place with Connacht.

"It would be very good to get a Connacht club back in Division 1A. Buccaneers are a really strong club and they have great players and management there at the moment, and you really want to play well for them every time you put on the jersey."

But ultimately it's at Connacht Rugby that Delahunt hopes to wear the No 2 shirt into the future, and has given himself the perfect platform to build on last season.

Doing the basics right consistently is the main objective for any Connacht player going forward, and with Tom McCartney back in the team now, Delahunt knows he cannot afford to slip up.

"Tom is a very good player. There is very good competition between all of us here at the moment and that's what Pat Lam wants.

"Personally, I will just try to keep pushing for a place, because there is only one position for the three of us and someone is always going to lose out. 

"But I just want to get better the whole time and hopefully that will be enough to get into the team more regularly."

Irish Independent

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