Leinster star Darragh Fanning on meeting his girlfriend in Coppers: 'That night didn't seal the deal but there was always unfinished business there'
When Darragh Fanning first met Laura Taylor seven years ago in Copper Face Jacks, he was impressed by her Australian accent and chatted to her about the TV programme Home and Away, which he loved.
At the time they were both in college, and while they shared a kiss when Darragh dropped her home, nothing else happened.
"That night didn't seal the deal but there was always unfinished business there," says Laura. "I found Darragh's confidence attractive, and he was really easy to chat to, but I was finishing college and was going to London, so I wasn't ready for anything serious. We didn't get each other's phone number, and although he says he sent me a Facebook or Bebo mail, I didn't receive it."
Either way, Darragh and Laura didn't see each other for six years, because she went to London and he went to Galway and Australia. They met again in February 2014 when Laura attended a Strictly Come Dancing event that Darragh was taking part in, and he reckons his twinkle toes on the dance floor won her over. They bumped into each other again shortly afterwards in a move engineered by mutual friends and went out on a date a week later, and have been an item ever since.
"When I'm with Darragh, I'm always having fun and laughing," says Laura. "He's really thoughtful, entertaining and laid back so we are yin and yang. What drives me mad is that he's always on his phone, so sometimes I end up confiscating it."
The eldest of three girls, Laura, 28, is from Brisbane, Australia. Her mum Blathnaid is from Tipperary and her dad Peter is Australian, and they met on holidays in Greece. Laura lived in Brisbane until she was 10 and again from the age of 15 to 18, and when her family returned to Dublin she studied business and law at UCD. She went to London after graduation to do a fashion-buying course followed by a trainee accounting apprenticeship in Dublin, and then went to work with her dad in his franchise of Home Instead Senior Care. She now works in accounting firm Mazars, on Harcourt Street.
"Laura is very attractive," says Darragh, admiringly. "I like that she is very sporty and keeps fit, as we both enjoy going to the gym and training. We eat healthily, and I like to cook and she likes to eat my food. She is unbelievably selfless, as she puts everyone before herself."
Darragh grew up in Sandyford as the third of Eileen and Declan's four children, and like his dad, who played for and captained Leinster, he was involved in rugby from early on. He did a business management degree at IT Tallaght, and while he harboured ambitions of playing rugby professionally, injuries in sixth year at school saw him missing out on most of the season and he didn't receive the exposure he needed.
Connacht gave him a break in 2010, but a burst appendix put him out of action for a while, and after going to Australia on a short-term contract, he decided to return there for a year to play for the Tuggeranong Vikings. It was here that he first came across Zambrero, the fresh, healthy, modern Mexican restaurant chain, because Shaun McCarthy, his fellow rugby player and now his business partner, left Canberra to open a franchise. The Vikings offered Darragh a three-year deal, but he missed home and decided to return here.
Before he left, he helped Shaun out with the opening of one of his new restaurants for five weeks and loved the whole experience. Back home, his rugby career took a fantastic twist when he was signed to Leinster, which was his dream. "I had an unbelievable season last year and played 20 games, and was the top try scorer in Europe," he says.
"This year, my luck hasn't really been there. There were new coaches and they were pushing youth, and I'm 30 this year so am not that young any more. Leinster approached me a few months ago and asked me if I would be interested in leaving the contract early to go to another club, but my only goal was to play for Leinster or Ireland so it didn't appeal to me. I know I'm not the most naturally talented rugby player, but I have a good work ethic, training-wise and diet-wise. When that happened, I just thought maybe it was an opportunity to put that effort into Zambrero and go full hog into it."
What helped Darragh make the difficult decision to leave Leinster was that Shaun was thinking of expanding into Ireland and wanted to involve Darragh because he helped him out at the start. They opened Zambrero recently on Hatch Street and are currently planning site two, so life is hectic but Darragh is really enjoying it. On the personal front, while they have been together a relatively short time, Darragh and Laura say they definitely see a future together and would love to have a family one day.
"Everyone knows that being with a sports person is tough as we go through such peaks and troughs, but Laura has always believed in me and supported me, whether in rugby or business," says Darragh, who still plays with St Mary's in Terenure. "I told her about Zambrero on our first date to impress her, but hardly anyone knew at that stage. We get on so well and she gets on great with the lads too, and that is massive for me."
Zambrero, Station House, Hatch Street. Dublin 2. Tel: 01 563 1800 Opening hours 11am- 8pm daily
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