Australian-based former international wishes ‘he could have done more’
Matt Mostyn doesn’t talk about his rugby career much nowadays.
At his home in Sydney, there are few reminders of his past life, except for the handful of jerseys that are stored away safely, along with the man of the match award he won following his hat-trick on his second Ireland appearance.
As much as the memorabilia is hidden from view, Mostyn’s sense of what might have been is unavoidable and for all that he has many regrets, he doesn’t blame anyone but himself for not making more of a career that had promised so much.
Perhaps that is why he made the conscious decision to leave rugby behind when he returned to Australia 12 years ago.
Mostyn’s memories are one thing, his life experiences are another. For all that his time in Galway provided himself and his wife Renee with some of the best years of their lives, he knows he could and should have done more with his playing career.
Since hanging up his boots and working as a consultant in construction project management, Mostyn has made sure that he doesn’t make the same mistake again.
"When I look back on my career now, my immediate reaction is disappointment because I don’t think I did myself justice," he admits.
"I still think about it, and I don’t blame anyone except for myself. I would have loved to have played more Test matches for Ireland, but it wasn’t to be. Whenever people bring it up now, it’s a constant reminder not to get lazy or not give every opportunity everything that I have.
"And that’s not to say I didn’t try hard when I was in Ireland, but I know I could have done more.
"It’s interesting, that experience has taught me a lot of life lessons, which I have taken into my business career.
"It has given me a lot more consistent hunger in what I do. I am a lot harder on myself. I think that has stood me well in my life post-rugby, which I am actually grateful for."
Mostyn’s journey to Ireland began in 1998 when Bordeaux picked him up after he got dropped to the Waratahs’ ‘B’ squad. Looking back on it now, Mostyn recognises the early warning signs.
"To be honest, mate, I just got lazy and wasn’t training as hard as I used to," he reflects, honestly. "It dawned on me that I had to train extremely hard to be just about good enough to play at a certain level."
It was the wake-up call he needed, so moving to France was a no-brainer as soon as Renee agreed to up sticks.
His arrival wasn’t welcomed by everyone, however, as he recalls:
"I remember I went for a jog around the oval and a couple of the players turned up. As I ran passed them, one of the French blokes just goes, ‘F**k off home, stranger.’
"Mate, that was a pleasant welcome to France! I certainly felt more welcome when I moved to Ireland."
Warren Gatland was soon alerted to the fact that Mostyn was Irish-qualified through his grandfather Henry McDonald, who was born in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone.
"The timing was quite fortunate for me in that I was able to secure an Irish passport," Mostyn insists. "They changed that rule not long after that.
"Mum’s parents were very proud of their Irish heritage. She held that very strong connection. It was very normal for us to have that link.
"And I’m not over-playing it – we didn’t sit around the dinner table singing Irish songs or anything like that. But the link was always there. We would always have supported Ireland if they weren’t playing Australia."
It looked as though Ireland had unearthed a gem just before the 1999 World Cup, and while Mostyn went on to start all four tournament games, his sixth and final appearance for his adopted nation came on that disastrous night in Lens.
Two months earlier, after scoring a hat-trick against the same Argentina side, things couldn’t have been going much better for Mostyn, who had just been parachuted straight into the Ireland team for his debut against Australia, the country of his birth.
Mostyn’s first cap in Brisbane was overshadowed by a fresh-faced Brian O’Driscoll, who was also making his international debut.
Not that Mostyn minded a jot, however; the spotlight was never really his thing.
"I rode on the back of that story a bit," the winger-cum-full-back laughs.
"Brian was only 20, but everyone knew what a freak he was, even at that age. What he went to achieve was just remarkable. It was surreal to suddenly be out there singing the anthems. It was obviously emotional, but I loved every minute of it.
"After the tour, I stayed at home in Australia before travelling back to Ireland four weeks later.
"I’m quite open about this; it was only twice in my career that I stepped off training as hard as I should have, and both times it certainly cost me.
"My talent alone didn’t allow me to do as much as a lot of other players, so I had to make up for it by training really hard.
"By the time I got back to Ireland, I had some catching up to do in terms of my fitness and speed. To be honest, I was still playing catch-up when I went into that Argentina game."
Despite his lack of fitness, Mostyn really announced his arrival on the international stage with three tries, but that was as good as it got before the Pumas got their revenge in the quarter-final play-off.
"For a few of us, it was our last opportunity in the green jersey," he sighs.
"At that level, if you don’t convert your opportunities, that’s the way it goes. But to be able to represent Ireland at a World Cup is still something that I am so grateful for.
"I got very close to getting another chance a few times over the years but unfortunately it never eventuated.
"I was 23 at the time, I knew I could play better rugby. I probably went on to show that later in my career, but by that stage, I had fallen out of favour. That’s something I have to live with.
"The team went on to great things, and straight out, there were better players than me.
"Denis (Hickie) got his confidence back and became an amazing winger. Shane Horgan, Geordan Murphy, they were fantastic. I was never good enough to be in front of those guys.
"That’s life. It certainly doesn’t leave a sour taste. I know it was a lot of my own making because I didn’t make the most of the opportunities."
Mostyn hasn’t been back in Galway since himself and Renee packed their bags in 2008, and while they had planned to return in July along with their kids Annabelle (seven) and Harry (three), they intend to reschedule their holiday for next year.
The 45-year-old’s Ireland career may have went unfulfilled, but Mostyn became a favourite at the Sportsground, having played 100 times for Connacht across two spells, as well for Galwegians when the All-Ireland League (AIL) was at its peak.
"We genuinely love Galway and the people of Connacht, we had some of the best times of our life," Mostyn adds. "The West of Ireland gave us so much as people. It’s hard to put into words how special the friendships that we made were.
"It would be fantastic to take the kids over next year. It’s very difficult to explain to them at their age just what Renee and I experienced there, but some day they will understand.
"Playing for Galwegians under John Kingston with the likes of Eric Elwood and Mervyn Murphy, we had a fantastic run in the AIL.
"We ended up getting promoted from the second division and that was one of the most enjoyable six months of rugby I have ever had. I absolutely loved it.
"Mate, when I think of Galway and Ireland, it’s more the people we met, the friends we made and the experiences we had. The rugby is secondary to that.
"I haven’t ever had a chance to look back on the jerseys, but I might go and do it now after this chat."