Tuesday 22 August 2017

'You can do the analysis but you need minutes on the field'

With parents from Mayo and Leitrim, new signing Tom Farrell has settled in quickly at Sportsground

Tom Farrell: ‘I’m loving it here so far. It has been straight into things but it’s going well’ Picture: Sportsfile
Tom Farrell: ‘I’m loving it here so far. It has been straight into things but it’s going well’ Picture: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

He may have been born and raised in Dublin, and spent most of his rugby career as part of the Leinster academy, but when it was announced that Tom Farrell had signed for Connacht in early January, he was coming home.

The 23-year-old was brought in from Bedford Blues in the English Championship as Connacht coach Pat Lam looked to cover his injury-hit centre positions.

But then again, the whole Connacht squad was injury-ravaged at the time and out-half Steve Crosbie, along with prop Peter McCabe, both arrived at the Sportsground from Munster in the same week.

Connacht have been struggling in recent months, and the signing of three bright prospects, although both Crosbie and McCabe are on short-term deals, was a breath of fresh air for the reigning Pro12 champions.

But Farrell's capture stood out in particular, and the former Ireland underage star has all of the attributes to make it at the very highest level in the game.

His mother Ann Collins hails from Islandeady, just outside Castlebar in Co Mayo, along with the majority of his extended family, while Farrell's namesake and father is from Dromod in Leitrim.

There are a few relations in Dublin, but the Farrell family are Connacht through and through and Tom was thrilled when he heard Pat Lam was interesting in acquiring his services.

"Irish rugby is quite small and everyone knows each other. They are aware of players abroad and who's available. When I went abroad at the start of the season I was told that Irish rugby would be keeping an eye on me and keeping in touch," said Farrell.

"I just took it in my stride, and thought if it comes it comes. I was playing rugby over in Bedford and I was keeping an eye on rugby at home."

Farrell started at inside-centre for Bedford Blues and scored a 44th-minute try in their brilliant 39-37 victory over Jersey Reds at Godlington Road on December 26. And the following day his agent, Tom Beattie of TDB Sports in the UK, was in touch and the move was on.

On January 9, it was announced and he was on his way to Galway, where he stayed in the Connacht Hotel along with Crosbie and McCabe until recently.

And despite having to learn an entirely new game-plan, and style of play, Farrell was plunged into the deep end and given his first Connacht appearance on the following Saturday, in what turned out to be a facile 66-21 hammering of Zebre. But he relished the opportunity in front of his home fans.

Tactics

"I didn't really expect to play straight away. My agent said they wanted that, but sometimes they tell you that but you don't know. But it was, I was straight into it. I arrived on the Monday and the team was announced on the Wednesday or the Thursday, and I was named on the bench. I got about 35 minutes in that game.

"It was quite hard to be fair to learn all of the new tactics. It wasn't the worst but the main thing was doing my homework and getting my game-knowledge and roles right.

"I needed to understand how the system worked. The rugby aspect of it will take care of itself, I was more focused on the mental side of it understanding the calls and systems.

"The way we play here, the backs have an influential role, so it's important for the centres to have a good understanding and that is what I was doing for the first four days.

"We were all just sitting down with Conor McPhillips and Pat Lam, in front of a whiteboard and a TV for hours and just going through it. You can do all of the TV work, analysis and all of that but you need minutes on the field. Being thrown into the game and putting into practice that is what is most beneficial."

Farrell began playing rugby with Castleknock RFC before he attended Castleknock College and his love for the sport grew.

"I played junior and senior cup there and played Leinster U-20s, Leinster academy, Ireland U-20s, did all of that. Got to the end of my Leinster academy stint and wasn't going to be kept on at Leinster so then I decided to pack my bags and head over to the UK and pursue a career over there.

"I definitely have no regrets about making the move. I wanted to pursue rugby and there is only four provinces in Ireland so it is hard to break into it. For me obviously it's quite good because I got the minutes I wanted.

"It wasn't the highest level in England but it was a high standard. I was testing myself and pushing myself in that environment. Although, in my head it was always aimed towards coming home, but because you are busy week in, week out playing matches you never really think about it. But it just fell in place itself."

Farrell played 12 times while at Goldington Road towards the end of 2016, but now along with his former Leinster academy team-mates Crosbie and Cian Kelleher he will hope to get Connacht back on track.

"I'm loving it here so far. It has been straight into things, but it's going well. The boys are all accommodating and making me feel right at home.

"I would like to stay here for a few years. Being from Ireland, both of my parents are from Connacht so they are happy out with me being down here as well.

"My mam is from Mayo and my dad is from Leitrim. They are obviously happy out seeing me in a green jersey now," he said.

Irish Independent

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