Wednesday 26 September 2018

Leinster numbers add up for former academy reject Daly

Rejected by the Leinster Academy at 19, Daly began a career in accountancy and until June 2016 was an apprentice in KPMG. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Rejected by the Leinster Academy at 19, Daly began a career in accountancy and until June 2016 was an apprentice in KPMG. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

He's the fastest man in Irish rugby, but it took Barry Daly a long time to get here.

It is easy to describe the 25-year-old as 'living the dream' as he follows up his Aviva Stadium debut against Munster with a European try on his first start for his home province against the giants of Montpellier, but that would do a disservice to the hard work he's put in.

Rejected by the Leinster Academy at 19, Daly (right) began a career in accountancy and until June 2016 was an apprentice in KPMG.

Rugby was a hobby, one he was very good at.

Operating on the wing for UCD, he regularly rubbed shoulders with academy prospects and topped the scoring charts in the All Ireland League.

His name was known, but the call never game until Luke Fitzgerald and Niall Morris retired unexpectedly at the end of the 2015/16 season and Leinster were short numbers in the back-three.

Flying

Academy coach Noel McNamara suggested they have another look at Daly who had been flying for the Ireland sevens team.

"A couple of years ago I was watching these guys on the couch, now I'm playing with them every day. It's amazing. I feel like I'm going well, so I'm happy," he said modestly at Leinster's UCD base yesterday.

"Saturday was a great day, the week before as well - playing against Munster in the Aviva - it was another big one. I hadn't played in that kind of game before, so I've a bit more confidence I can handle the big games."

Physical attributes are not a problem. This season, he clocked a time of 10.5 metres per second when chasing an opponent and that speed puts him top of the charts.

Girvan Dempsey was head of the academy when they passed on Daly and he has been impressed with how he has responded to that decision.

"Just a bit of experience, a bit of maturity, a bit of playing for UCD and performing," he said when asked what was the difference between the 19-year-old Daly and the one scoring European tries.

"We felt at the time that it wasn't right for him. We had a look at him in the sub-academy and felt at the time it wasn't right for him to come into the environment.

"In fairness to him he was incredible, we kept in contact with him and watching him at UCD. With UCD, you couldn't deny that he'd found that sort of maturity and understanding, the awareness (to go with) his finishing ability.

"He came in last season and performed unbelievably well, he's kicked on and just grown in confidence.

"Some of the performances last year were excellent, there were parts of his game that he needed to improve on but more so than ever he's improved his aerial skills, defence, across his game he's been excellent.

"It's great to see a player on form and in confidence, that finish at the weekend with two men on him going into the corner, it was excellent."

For the player himself, there was a belief that he could make it if he was given a chance.

"I always thought I was good enough to play at the top myself, but at the same time I always thought there were loads of guys good enough to play, who are playing in the AIL level," he said.

"It's just whatever way it works; they get an injury at the wrong time, I broke my hand in the first game of the U-20 Six Nations, things happen - and it doesn't work out for many guys.

"That decision was made for me, I kept playing for UCD, kept loving the game. Kept training Tuesdays and Thursdays, playing Saturday, I love that, that was great.

"I'm not doing it to prove anyone wrong, I'm just doing it for myself and to play rugby and to love it.

"When I didn't get the academy straight up, I was just playing for fun.

"The only time I really started thinking about going back to it was when the sevens came up and I thought I could get in shape.

Helped

"The sevens helped me out loads. It was the thing that really got me back to the fitness level I needed to be able to play at this level coming into pre-season last year.

His day job stood in his way, but Daly is grateful that his boss Colm Clifford cleared the path for him.

"I didn't see it as a massive risk or anything going in to see them. I thought they handled it extremely well and I was extremely grateful for how they handled it," he recalled.

"In the year before I left, I was playing sevens a lot and asking for time off work every month or six weeks, and that wasn't exactly ideal for them, they'd signed me up as someone who'd work every day... they couldn't have been more helpful or understanding."

It'll always be there as a fall-back, but for now the book-keeping will have to wait as Leinster's speed merchant keeps living a hard-earned dream.

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