Monday 5 December 2016

From a professional contract with Leinster to captaining Ireland in Rio Olympics - it's been a busy year for Tom Daly

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Published 22/04/2016 | 02:30

Tom Daly in action for Leinster Photo: Sportsfile
Tom Daly in action for Leinster Photo: Sportsfile

As he closes in on his 23rd birthday, Carlow native Tom Daly isn't of a mind to look too far back, but he is happy to think back to the highs of the last 12 months.

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As the Guinness Pro12 and the All-Ireland League begin to wind down, the centre is, unlike most other rugby players, on the verge of winding back up again.

"If you had told me at the start of the season that by the end of it I'd have a professional contract with Leinster and that I'd be the captain of the Irish Sevens team one win away from a spot at the Rio Olympics I wouldn't have believed you, but at the same time you have to have belief in yourself," he says.

"It's not easy at times but you just have to keep working away, keep looking for ways to stake a claim and you just hope that it's enough."

To that first Leinster senior contract.

"Leo (Cullen) called me into his office and said that I was in his plans for next season and that was a few months ago now," he says.

Complicated

"From there it gets a little bit more complicated in that you start to negotiate with Guy (Easterby - director of rugby operations). Thankfully that was fairly straightforward, and before long I was in Guy's office signing my first professional contract."

It conjures up images of Premier League stars signing contracts in offices with the media glare upon them at Old Trafford or Anfield or wherever.

Tom Daly at the launch of the Ireland Men's Rugby Sevens Squad last year Photo: Sportsfile
Tom Daly at the launch of the Ireland Men's Rugby Sevens Squad last year Photo: Sportsfile

"No! Far less glamorous but I suppose as a player it's the exact same moment in that it secures your immediate future and after three years of working in the Academy in Leinster it is all you ever want, so it's a massive day," Daly enthuses.

The road to that moment can't be easy either. There is competition within each Academy intake plus competition from signings from the outside, and there is the small matter of injuries which have been known to strike down the most promising of careers.

"I don't think it plays on your mind as much in year one and two maybe but definitely as you enter year three it starts to play on your mind big time," explains Daly.

"That being said you can't let it take over either because then you'll freeze, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't look around sometimes and look at the quality of centres that Leinster have and you wonder.

"I suppose you do doubt yourself but then you get on with it, you get on with training and with playing with Lansdowne in my case and with the Leinster As; you try to put your best foot forward and you hope that it's enough."

Was there ever a moment when he doubted it would happen for him?

"Absolutely. I suppose it's more a case of thinking 'am I in his plans or am I not?' because you will see other lads getting a run with the senior team or getting an opportunity to impress and I haven't had that chance on a match day yet.

"Then again I think Leinster do put a value on the All-Ireland League and the British & Irish Cup and it's not just lip service. Look at the lads that have been signed up from the League in the last few seasons: Darragh Fanning, Mick McGrath, Royce Burke-Flynn, Tony Ryan.

"Then I think of my own form. I was one of the more senior players in that A team this season and I was getting consistent game time for the first time in a B&I Cup campaign and I was able to build up a head of steam there. It was after one of these performances that Leo pulled me into his office and had the chat.

"So yes you want of course to be involved with the senior team but you have to trust the platform and how the Academy system operates and you have to believe. But were there times when I didn't? Of course."

While Daly is still beaming at the thought of that chat with head coach Cullen, it also brings back other chats and other influences.

"I rang my parents straight away and you do think of what they sacrificed. It was my dad that got me involved in sport in the first place; it was Gaelic football primarily but then you think of choices that you take or people who guide you.

"I think of men like John Farrell who was my GAA coach in Ballon but also my rugby coach in Carlow. Huge influence. And then you think of the years in Knockbeg College. They all play their part."

With Ben Te'o and Ian Madigan leaving Leinster shortly, it is easy to see opportunities coming Daly's way, but instead he sees the start of another challenge.

"They are two big losses to Leinster, two really good guys as well as players but that opens up doors," he says.

"It would be great if it was that straightforward but it's not. There are plenty of other top-class centres here at Leinster with international experience and then you have Robbie Henshaw coming in, so I see it very much as an opportunity to take that next step but nothing more. It's up to me."

Crack

That next step is for then. For now it's the small matter of captaining the Irish Sevens team for a crack at Rio.

"Captaining your country, it's not something that I ever did growing up or at age grade but I jumped at the chance and I've loved it," he says.

"I've loved the whole Sevens experience. I think the additional skillset that it develops really brings on your overall game and that has helped my 15s game."

Like Leinster next season, the road to Rio is no less challenging but he is positive in his outlook.

"We have a strong squad of 26 lads and in the coming weeks we will start to train as a full time squad with training three evenings a week and every weekend from May. We have five or six mini-tournaments before the main Repechage Tournament in June. From that one team from 12 can qualify and yes we'll be need to be at our best and there is very little room for error, but why not? It would be great to lead a first ever Irish Sevens team to an Olympics."

More challenges for Daly. But more than willing to meet them head on.

Irish Independent

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