Tuesday 15 October 2019

Big Interview: Kiwi hooker wants to add special twist to his time in green shirt

A lime tree business back home is front-row star Tom McCartney’s plan for the future, but he is far from finished with rugby, as he tells Daragh Small

Tom McCartney of Connacht is tackled by William Small-Smith of Toyota Cheetahs during the Guinness PRO14 Round 10 match between Toyota Cheetahs and Connacht at Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Photo by Frikkie Kapp/Sportsfile
Tom McCartney of Connacht is tackled by William Small-Smith of Toyota Cheetahs during the Guinness PRO14 Round 10 match between Toyota Cheetahs and Connacht at Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Photo by Frikkie Kapp/Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Connacht's busy inter-pro schedule over the coming weeks means the players will have little time to spend with their families during the festive period, but some have to spend the Christmas alone.

Tom McCartney's wife and two children depart for New Zealand, which means he will likely join the likes Quinn Roux and other team-mates for his dinner on December 25.

"I know there a few other guys, Quinn's wife is going back to South Africa. And we live just a few houses down from each other," says McCartney. "We have got a few invites to spend Christmas Day with a few other families. I hope we can work something out."

The 33-year-old former Auckland Blues hooker and New Zealand native has missed out on the chance to return home to see his relatives.

"It's one of the things about being over here. It can be tough on my wife and grandparents especially," he adds.

"Taryn misses out on quite a bit of support from the grandparents. There is not really someone that you can drop the kids off if you have had a rough day or you are sick, so she has done a great job of taking that on.

"A lot of the time when I am away on the weekends she is by herself with two young kids. She does a great job.

"At the same time the grandparents miss out as well. I am sure they would love to take the kids for a day or two here and there. Going home at Christmas time is probably the ideal time. There is not a lot for the kids to do especially when it is getting dark early. Back in New Zealand it's heading into summer and there is a lot for them to do, going to the beach.

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"It's when the people in New Zealand take their holidays over the summer period. I am sure they will have a great time on the beach while we are out at the Sportsground playing in the wind and rain.

"But I will just have to keep in touch on the FaceTime."

McCartney has played 92 times for Connacht and scored eight tries since his debut season in 2014-'15.

Galway is his adopted home but he retains a strong relationship with his family in New Zealand.

Business

Tom and his father, Greg McCartney, have jointly established a lime tree business in Ardmore, south Auckland. They have around 5,000 lime trees growing there.

Rugby players are encouraged to have a plan in place for when they eventually finish up as players, and with the McCartney family business up and running, the future is bright for the Connacht front-row.

"My dad ended up getting land that used to be a nursery with about 50 people working there. It had a load of plastic and glasshouses on it," says McCartney.

"They were all overgrown, right up to the roof. He got the land quite cheap and went through and fixed it all up. He had all of these glasshouses that were just sitting there.

"We decided to grow a load of lime trees and that's ticking away back in New Zealand now.

"The idea behind it was, it's very seasonal so if you just grow lime trees, they come in season during the winter so the price drops down.

"Then when they are out of season they have to be imported. The price is about ten times as much if you are selling them at wholesale. The idea of having them under the glass is that it extends the season.

"You are growing them all year round and over the summer months when ideally a lot of people are drinking cocktails and eating limes you will still be producing them.

"That's the business plan anyway. You get a bit more money at that stage for what you are doing.

"It would be a bit of a side project for me going forward. It's a pretty big operation there."

Back on the field, it's been a frustrating season for McCartney with Dave Heffernan and Shane Delahunt both on form and notching up lots of game-time.

McCartney got injured early in 2018-'19 and has had to fight for his way back into the team.

"It's pretty annoying after doing all of the pre-season training to pick up an injury when you are just getting into the games, and giving the other guys a jump on me as well. They have been playing really well since the start of the season," says McCartney.

"Dave Heffernan was going great guns and so was Shane Delahunt. From a competition point of view, they have got a big jump on me.

"But at the same point of view I am happy to see them doing well and as long as the team is winning I want to help that happen as much as I can, but I would like to think we are pretty open and share with each other.

"As frustrating as that injury was, it was cool to see them guys play so well.

"All of the hookers are playing really well. We play Leinster and five days later we play Ulster. When you have guys that are all playing well and pushing hard you would be silly not to mix and match it a bit and keep guys fresh at the same time.

"We will just have to wait and see what the coaches do. I wouldn't be surprised to see some rotation."

Minutes

But after this evening's Challenge Cup clash with Perpignan in France Connacht have three interprovincial derby games to come against Leinster, Ulster and Munster.

It's a huge opportunity for McCartney to get more minutes under his belt as he moves closer and closer to the ton of appearances in the green jersey.

"It's different playing in December. It can become a lot more forward- and set-piece orientated," adds McCartney. "Being a hooker in the front-row you are right against it. It can be a frustrating time throwing the ball in the bad weather but you have to embrace it.

"It's just another challenge and the opposition playing in the same conditions as well. Hopefully you do it better."

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