Wednesday 16 October 2019

'I'd love an Irish call but only off back of my own displays'

Big Interview: Max Deegan

Max Deegan in action against Ospreys’ Lloyd Ashley. Photo: Sportsfile
Max Deegan in action against Ospreys’ Lloyd Ashley. Photo: Sportsfile
Max Deegan braving the elements with James Lowe (left) at Leinster training. Photo: Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Max Deegan is a man well used to the headlines. He made them in school in St Michael's. He made them with the Ireland U-20s. And now he is making them with Leinster Rugby. But the most recent ones - linking him with a call-up to the Rugby World Cup squad - have caught him off-guard.

"It's funny! You try not to pay too much attention to it all ever really. Good or bad. Because it's never that good and it's never that bad so you shouldn't lose energy or worry about things that are outside of your control.

"But for the first time I have seen a few things and I've laughed because it's really something that isn't on my radar at all. All that is on my radar is doing well for Leinster."

That is not to say that the comments and the commentary around his game isn't flattering; of course it is and he admits as much, but his reaction is more about the situation that he finds himself in. Relying on misfortune to offer him the chance of a lifetime. That just isn't him.

"I look at Jack (Conan) and I'm just shocked for him. All that he has worked so hard for over many years with Leinster and then taking his chances with Ireland and for this injury to hit him, is just awful for him.

"Especially for a fella that you know and you are just gutted for them. So over the last few weeks I honestly haven't given it a moment's thought because I can't.

"I can't hold myself back, I can't lose focus because then Leinster suffers and my game suffers. And plus I have to rely on pretty bad misfortune for one of the lads out in Japan and why would I waste my time thinking about that? I would love to pull on an Ireland jersey some day but I'd love for it to be off the back of my own performances."

Of course, the reality is that it is because of his own performances in blue that he is being spoken about in the same sentence as others that have featured far more for Ireland at senior level than he, but for now his mindset is about making this window of opportunity count.

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"The reality is that we sat down in pre-season and we looked at this block. The first three games and then the few after that. Lads away, teams will target us but what can we do and we said, let's rise to that challenge and I think we have seen that over the last couple of weeks.

Culture

"Really good performances but not only that but I think we have created a really good culture of our own as a team within than wider team with the lads away. Almost like a bunker mentality.

"This is our little window to take ownership of things and to drive the standards and I think we have all been pleasantly surprised by how that has gone."

Deegan turned 23 only last week so he isn't exactly in the old folks home just yet, but even he feels like one of the mature voices around the place, and why wouldn't he? He is closing in on the half-century of caps for Leinster and over the last two-and-a-half years has added more and more to his playing CV.

While 2017/'18 - the double-winning season - was around individual moments of Deegan magic, 2018/'19 was more about a consistent run of games, more regular starts and crucially a role in finals rugby when he came on in the PRO14 Final.

"Yeah, the last two and a bit years have flown by but I've loved it. Loved every minute of it. There is a real energy to the back-row as well. There probably is to all the positions but I know that we all inspire each other.

"Everyone wants to play at the weekend so we are all driving the standards, driving each other to be better. Day in, day out. And game by game I am getting to experience new things, new situations, new stadiums, different teams, all the while pushing on and learning."

With the full prognosis on Conan still not known, one thing that is sure is that he won't be back in the immediate future so the opportunities for Deegan to grab a jersey are likely to last beyond this initial block.

"As I mentioned, it's awful for Jack but that is the reality of the environment we are in, that when the opportunity comes whether because of a World Cup or injury or form, you just have to be ready to go.

"The challenge isn't just on me though. Caelan, Will, Josh, Scott, Fards are all there looking to get game time, all wanting to kick on and make it as difficult as possible for Leo."

Also making it as difficult as possible for Cullen this weekend will be Edinburgh and an Edinburgh side that have been bristling with enthusiasm since the season kicked off.

"They trailed off a bit at the end of last season when they lost that quarter-final to Munster. They found it hard to regroup but they've that all out of the system now and have started really well. Unbeaten like ourselves so it should be a good one for the supporters that come to the RDS."

So what is it about this Edinburgh side that is so difficult to play against?

"It's no secret that they look to dominate you and the last two games we have played against them away from home, we have lost because, one, they played better so credit where it's due but, two, they were at that pitch of the game quicker than us.

Intensity

"Friday for us is about matching their intensity, and then bringing our own game to the table. But it is easier said than done and they are certainly an 80-minute team."

Back to a big weekend for the club.

"It's early days in the season but I just think this group has gone well in pre-season, the vibe in training was good. Sharpness and just really good energy.

"We have been able to bring that now into the season in the PRO14 and the 'A's have done it in the Celtic Cup. It would be great to head off to Lahinch next week for a few days off and some golf knowing that we had played our part in laying the foundation for the rest of the season. After that, who knows, but we can say that we have grabbed the jersey in this block and given it everything we had."

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