Darragh Fanning walks away having taken the road less travelled
Published 23/03/2016 | 02:30
"I've no embarrassment in admitting that I wasn't the most naturally gifted player in the world but I worked hard and that's all I ever tried to do for Leinster."
Darragh Fanning's assessment of his brief stint in professional rugby is refreshingly honest but what he achieved in such a short space of time proves that there is still scope for late developers to forge a career for themselves.
With a year and a half still left on his Leinster contract as well as offers from Premiership clubs, at 29 Fanning has taken the brave decision to walk away from something that he worked tirelessly for.
The winger has featured just once this season and he is realistic about the abundance of talented youngsters coming through.
"It's a very sad way to leave it but no-one gets the dream ending. Look at (Brian) O'Driscoll forced off in that Pro12 final and (Paul) O'Connell. You just don't get dream endings," he said.
"I didn't think back in September that Meggetland in Edinburgh of all places would be my last game. But if you had said to me three years ago 'would you take 34 caps, a Pro12 medal, a B&I Cup medal and a few tries on top?' I would've laughed at you.
"I lived the dream and more. I can't emphasise how hard it was walking away but it's been a tough six months.
"Rewind 12 months and you're playing Champions Cup games, playing in the Aviva against Munster and scoring a try in front of 45,000 people. Then you fast-forward to now and you're holding a (tackle) bag week in week out and it's tough."
Fanning's break came in 2010 when on the back of impressive displays for St Mary's in the All-Ireland League, Connacht snapped him up before playing nine times for the Westerners.
The move didn't quite work out the way he would have hoped and it wasn't until Matt O'Connor arrived on these shores that Leinster came calling on the then 27-year old in 2013. He played 34 times for his home province, scoring seven tries.
"I went from playing in Kinsale Sevens in a social section with my mates having the craic and it wasn't a Powerade I was having at half-time, it was a pint of Murphy's. . . to playing in front of 15,000 people at the RDS a few months later," Fanning recalled.
"All I want to do is play for Ireland. If not I want to play for Leinster and Mary's. At this stage, I'm not going to play for Ireland. Why not just walk out while I have these great memories?
"Do I want to go to England and play for another club that won't mean as much to me as Leinster? I get to stay in Dublin and focus on the next chapter."
His father Declan also played for and captained Leinster and to follow in his footsteps was another dream come true for someone who has appreciated every minute he had with the Blues.
Fanning will continue to line out for St Mary's as they look to secure promotion back to Division 1A, and he firmly believes that more players can follow the same path as he did.
"There's late developers, there's guys who will get a late growth spurt in their early 20s," he said. "Just because they missed out on the academy when they were 18, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to get in there through the AIL.
"I'd encourage coaches to support the AIL. Leo (Cullen) understands the AIL, Axel (Anthony Foley) in Munster understands the AIL and now you see more and more guys playing it.
"When I came out of school, I played my first AIL game against Shannon who had a team with the likes of Jerry Flannery, Tony Buckley, Trevor Hogan, Donnacha Ryan, Mossy Lawler and Ian Dowling.
"Some of those guys went on to international honours and as a 19-year old, the experience I got from that was more than I'd ever get from training in any academy system."
Fanning may have taken the road less travelled but it remains one that can still lead to the top.