Darragh Fanning: I had given up on the dream, now I'm living it
IT's Freshers Week in UCD and the music from the societies tent can be heard at Leinster's training pitch at the Clonskeagh end of the campus.
Darragh Fanning would empathise with the mature students wandering around, soaking it all in. Unlike their younger counterparts fresh out of school and heading straight for the festivities, they're there to make the most of the second chance afforded to them.
Indeed, the St Mary's man could easily have been strolling around Belfield himself at the start of a H-Dip. At 27, the former Connacht winger had all but given up on playing professional rugby after returning from a stint in Australia last year and teaching was high among his real-life options.
Instead, Fanning is up in Leinster's little corner of the campus living his dream and following in his father's footsteps after a double quirk of fate last season led to Joe Schmidt spotting him playing in the All-Ireland League. Real life can wait.
"I got lucky when I came back from Australia, Joe Schmidt saw a couple of my games and got me involved in some of the 'A' stuff at the end of last season and then Matt (O'Connor) took me in on a training deal at the beginning of this," he explained.
"It was a bit of luck as well. The first time Joe saw me, he was speaking at a pre-game lunch at Mary's. The second time, we played Clontarf away and he happened to be doing the pre-game lunch there too. Originally I was on a training contract until after the Northampton game and then I signed an extension until January.
"I knew lots of the lads from playing underage or at school or just outside socially. Everyone here has been brilliant to me, especially the strength and conditioning lads. At the start they eased me back in because I was working in a job and I had just started pre-season with Mary's."
Fanning's father Derek played for Leinster in the early '80s and, while the ambition was always there to follow in his footsteps, Darragh had given up on the prospect. He played for the 'A' side in last year's British & Irish Cup and finally got to pull on the blue No 14 jersey against Ulster in pre-season, and he hasn't given it up since. Now, he is a bona fide Leinster player.
"I will probably try to play for Mary's until I'm 40, so I'll never walk away from rugby, but I had pretty much given up on the professional dream," he said. "If you had said eight weeks ago 'you are going to play two friendly games and two Pro12 league games for Leinster' I would have laughed at you. There was not a chance of that happening so, to an extent, I had given up on the dream."
He is not the only All-Ireland League stalwart making his way in the pro ranks this season, with Lansdowne's Matt Healy and Craig Ronaldson lining out for Connacht and UCD's Danny Kenny off to London Irish.
"There is tons of talent in the AIL," said Fanning.