Friday 30 September 2016

Making his mark after becoming master of own destiny

Portlaoise man takes a different route on the professional trail but knows where he is going

Daragh Small

Published 03/04/2015 | 02:30

Eoghan Masterson had the distinction of representing both Ireland and Scotland
Eoghan Masterson had the distinction of representing both Ireland and Scotland

Eoghan Masterson has had a most unorthodox path to becoming a professional rugby player, but he is all the stronger for it.

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He turns just 22 on Sunday but has been ear-marked for big things for some time now and the way he progressed in the face of adversity bodes well for his future development.

The Portlaoise native has made 11 appearances in two seasons as part of the senior set-up in the Sportsground and after being added to Connacht's Challenge Cup squad his hard work isn't going unnoticed.

The Corinthians back row has come a long way since attending Portlaoise CBS, a non-rugby playing school at the time.

He even had to change his national allegiances in 2013 so that he could further his dream of becoming a professional rugby player, his Scottish grandfather Pat was the link.

He came through the youths rather than school system and after playing for Ireland at U-18 and U-19 level he progressed to the U-20s, but when he wasn't included in the squad for the Junior World Championships, an opportunity arose for him to play for Scotland at that level.

Masterson looked a real prospect coming through the age grades but, as so often happens, injury stalled his career momentarily.

He was always looking at the bigger picture however and after missing out on an opportunity to travel with Ireland U-20s to the Junior World Championships in France he explored another unconventional opening.

"It was a tough time to be honest. I had been injured for the inter-provincials and I came up to some Ireland U-20 camps.

"Mike Ruddock was in charge at the time and he left me out of the initial Six Nations' games so obviously I was absolutely devastated. It was a pretty bad time for me.

"But then I eventually made the bench for one of the games - I only got on to the field for about two minutes but that counts as a cap I suppose.

"After the Six Nations I wasn't contracted to any academy so I felt I needed to play and show what I could do at the Junior World Championships.

"So an opportunity came up to go to Scotland and I was chatting with my Dad and decided that maybe I was more likely to get some game time there whereas I didn't have any guarantees with the Irish U-20s.

Opportunity

"The opportunity came up and I went out there, played with Scotland and Nigel Carolan, who had made contact with me before the tournament, asked me to come down to Connacht.

"After the World Championships, I was initially on trial and after a few months got signed up and I am delighted to have been here ever since."

When he came west, Masterson had to down tools in DCU where he was studying Arts and switch his subjects to NUI Galway.

He is in second year Economics and Geography and shares lectures with Ireland international and fellow Connacht star Robbie Henshaw.

But Connacht Eagles captain Masterson is focusing on all things rugby for the moment, signing up to a new two-year deal in January that will keep him in Galway until at least the summer of 2017.

"I'm doing everything I can to better myself at rugby and then I try and fit in the college as best I can.

"But I am going to give rugby my best shot. Obviously I'm well aware that I want to have my education behind me as well. So I am determined get through my degree as best I can at the same time."

Masterson will move on from the Connacht academy this summer and he is happy with the way his Connacht career is developing.

He has made three starts and two appearances as a replacement for Pat Lam's men this term and his only try turned out to be crucial in Connacht's 30-25 victory away to Dragons on February 22.

"My first involvement this season was off the bench against the Scarlets which was a tough day at the office for us. After that Pat made a few changes and gave me the nod to go against Dragons. I was pretty happy with that, the team played well that day.

"When the team is going well it's a lot easier to do your own thing."

Injuries to Connacht's two first choice opensides, Jake Heenan and Willie Faloon mean that Masterson may be drafted into the No7 role more often towards the end of the season.

He prefers playing at No 8 however, as any young back-row operator he knows, his versatility will be key to his growth as a professional.

"Jake and Willie unfortunately hurt themselves in the last few weeks. I suppose the back row resources are a little bit stretched at the moment.

"I have had a chat with Pat in the past about this, I am happy to play anywhere once I get the opportunity to play. I played quite a bit at No 7 last year where there was the same problem. Willie had a foot injury and Jake had a shoulder injury then.

"Coming up playing the underage levels I saw myself primarily as a No 8 and in the academy I came in as a No 8 that can cover six and as things have panned out I have been covering seven as well.

"I am happy to cover wherever once I am playing but I think long-term No 8 is where I quite enjoy playing," he said.

Irish Independent

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