Sunday 18 August 2019

The Big interview: AJ MacGinty - Adventure continues for Eagles' adopted Dubliner

World Cup star delighted to get chance to impress after move home to Ireland

AJ MacGinty in action in Siberia where he kicked three penalties against Enisei-STM
AJ MacGinty in action in Siberia where he kicked three penalties against Enisei-STM

Daragh Small

It has been a busy couple of months for Connacht's new recruit, and AJ MacGinty is delighted to have settled his future with a province on the upward curve.

His career has followed a similar trend, but this year has been one to remember: eight international caps followed after his debut for the USA Eagles in July, and he made three starts at World Cup.

That experience will be vital as he looks to build a base in the west of Ireland, and the time he spent in Siberia with the rest of the squad last week was another character-building exercise for the 25-year-old.

But he is just delighted to have signed with Connacht, and only four weeks into his latest adventure, the Dublin-born out-half feels right at home.

"It's going well and I'm enjoying it. I knew a few faces in the squad before I came down. That made it easier, they were just guys that I have played against back in Dublin growing up, and obviously a few guys who would have went to Blackrock as well. So it has been good, everyone has been really welcoming. I am enjoying the environment.

"Denis Buckley and Dave Heffernan were the year behind me in school. They played up an age-level, so they played on my team. In fifth and sixth year with the senior cup they would have been involved in that. I actually haven't seen them in so long because I have been in America. But it has been good catching up with them as well.

"They were helpful. Getting me to and from training, filling me in on the schedule and how the whole thing works. When I got here I spent the first two weeks in the Connacht Hotel. Then I moved into an apartment with Ben Marshall. He's a Dublin man as well. I had played against him before. We have friends in common and that. So I have settled in with him, and he's been helpful. He just moved here three months ago."

MacGinty has made just two appearances for Connacht but he has already shown some of his potential - he kicked three penalties and played 80 minutes away to Enisei-STM.

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But prior to the Rugby World Cup, he had no idea where the next step would take him. He travelled with the US Eagles looking to make an impression. And his brother, Paul, who works for Trinity Sports Management in London, turned Connacht's head.

"My brother, who lives in London, was doing a bit of work for me. He had sent off a document to a few clubs. He got in touch with Connacht and then when I returned from the World Cup I made a trip down here the week I was back. I sat and had a chat with Pat Lam, Tim Allnutt and Willie Ruane.


"It just happened pretty fast, and the next week I had moved down here permanently. I had been back in Ireland a week, and I was already moving away from Dublin. It was just amazing. I am just extremely fortunate how it worked out."

The following week MacGinty travelled with the squad to Liberty Stadium, as the 24th man - Connacht beat Ospreys 21-16 for their first ever win at the Welsh venue, and straight away he knew he had made the right choice.

The former Willow Park and Blackrock College student had come a long way since he didn't make the cut for the Leinster U-20s, and nearly gave up on his dream to become a professional rugby player.

But he always loved the game, and that is what drove to continue playing his AIL rugby with Blackrock and then onto the USA.

"I was playing because I enjoyed playing, I enjoyed the environment. It was guys that I had played with my whole life. It just suited me to play rugby. I would have always had a love for soccer as well.

"I played a bit of rugby and soccer after U-20s. I played soccer for my local team, and then I took a break from rugby, and played for St Joseph's. So that was a step up in standard.

"The rugby just didn't work out so I wasn't going to chase after it. I just thought I was still going to play, but professional rugby wasn't really on my mind then."

After he concluded his degree in accounting, MacGinty took a break from that field, and he grew tired of his job in a Dublin bank.

It all culminated in what he thought would be just a year on the other side of the Atlantic, but he ended up creating a career over there, and now he's back to make it happen in the Sportsground.

"I went to New York and worked in a recruitment firm. I did that for three months and played rugby too. My mates were all working in bars. They were enjoying it, and making a lot more money. So once the rugby season finished I packed in the office job, and got a bar job.

"I worked in the Pig and Whistle. The parents weren't too happy with me, they wanted me to get out of that. And after nine months in New York, I went to Life University.

"The director of rugby there was Tony Smeed, who used to be the Trinity coach. A position became available to study, and I got in and coached the undergrad team too.

"It was sort of a professional environment. It was good to get involved in that, and we won a national championship. I got my call-up to play for USA, and started out in the Pacific Nations Cup. But the World Cup was the most amazing part.

"It was something that I targeted. I got incredible support, it was just very disappointing the way it went, when we weren't able to pick up any wins. There was highs and lows but the overall experience, it was something that I will never forget."

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