Tuesday 20 March 2018

McSharry in right channel to break into prime time

Centre Dave McSharry is making the most of his opportunities out West, writes Brendan Fanning

On the face of it, last week wasn't right up there with the best in Dave McSharry's life. A fair few people had suggested to him that Wednesday might bring good news when Declan Kidney was announcing his squad for the November series. It didn't.

He got a mention all right, as one of the group with a right to be downcast. But then the coach always manages to produce a long list of those who have a right to feel that way. Inclusion wouldn't make you feel much better.

"I was a small bit disappointed but at the same time I can see why he's gone with (Luke) Marshall," he says. "Ulster are obviously going very well at the moment. He's had limited opportunities but when he's come on he's done well.

"I kind of feel myself that I'd like to develop a small bit more -- I've put on a few kilos compared to last year but I could bulk up a small bit more. At the moment I'm around 97/98 kilos but I think I can fill out a bit more for my height (6ft 2in)."

One of the avenues unexplored in the recent documentary The West's Awake was that Connacht is a second-chance saloon for refugees from around the country. Lots of players have benefited from the move to Galway, and McSharry is moving up that list of those who have done well.

He has no issues with Leinster for not opening the door to their Academy, because at the time he was haunted by injury. He wouldn't have signed himself. First it was his shoulder, then his scaphoid, then a serious groin injury.

"The lads were saying to stay positive and try and get as good a run as you can. Just stay injury-free and play good rugby and it'll happen. At one stage I was losing a

bit of faith. I was going, 'Ah Jesus is this going to keep on happening, am I just going to wreck myself here?' But when I got it completely out of my head that I was going to get injured and stopped wondering how long before the next one, it went completely out of my head. Then I had an injury-free run with UCD two seasons ago and I've played lots of rugby since then. I'm fine."

Another nugget from the past reminds him of where he has come from. As a schoolboy, McSharry was good enough to make the Leinster team in fifth year. Given that he was coming from Templeogue, well outside the inner circle of big rugby schools, made it all the better. On the day of the trial his coach sent him off with a message that he was well deserving of the run. The scene in the changing room didn't convince him.

"A lot of the lads knew each other already and I was the only one from Templeogue," he recalls. "I was standing there in the corner in my Templeogue gear and a lot of the lads wouldn't have been making too much of an effort to chat to you. I don't think most of them knew what school I was from."

Of course the same lads became his best mates thanks to the contribution he made on a Leinster schools tour to South Africa. That put him on the path towards a UCD scholarship, and it was from there that Academy manager Nigel Carolan picked him up for Connacht.

McSharry's debut last season was one of those toe in the water jobs. He came off the bench in the RDS against Leinster, floundered around a bit, but within a few weeks was playing Heineken Cup rugby having found his depth. A full contract followed fairly swiftly, and he is looking at two more years in the Sportsground before deciding what to do next. By then there will be a queue well formed. We haven't seen a lot of McSharry's footballing ability yet but having played outhalf for most of his schooldays we're hoping it's competent. Certainly the rest of his game is up to scratch. Last season suggested he had the physicality to cope in the busiest channel on the field, and that he had some gas to go with it. This season we have seen him well rewarded for running lovely lines.

Tries against Leinster and Harlequins were, in the context of each contest, huge moments. If this is a knack he is developing, touching down in big games, then it's worth developing.

"In fairness to Parksy (Dan Parks), he's been putting me through those gaps," he says. "With his experience he probably sees those spaces before everyone else so that's good. For the Leinster one we'd worked on that move that week and we knew that if we got into the 22 like that it'd be a good option to go for. Straight off a scrum -- went straight through off it.

"I was a bit surprised actually. I don't think I was touched on either one which is down to Parksy. His passing -- compared with last season (when he wasn't there) it's right out in front of you. The big thing for me is he puts it on the money every time. That extra little bit of accuracy makes such a difference when you can come on to the ball at pace. I've been really enjoying playing outside him. Seeing as it's such a young backline, having that experience there at 10, with his positional play, has brought life to our backline."

The 21-year-old had a weekend off this week, a welcome rest having been playing catch-up after an ankle injury wrecked his pre-season. It's a chance for him to go shopping for a nice bonnet.

If there is anyone out there with a suitable scrum cap that covers the chin as well the rest of the head then he would like to hear from them. Literally he has a pain in his face. At the rate he is going he will have a zip line running along his jaw from one ear to the other.

Against Gloucester last season he opened his chin up in the first half and was about to go back for more after the break until a plastic surgeon had a look at the gaping wound and suggested otherwise. Eighteen stitches later, he was back on the field the next week against Munster, where of course it opened again. This season, against Ulster, he got another cut further up the jaw, which took eight stitches to close.

"I was wearing the scrum cap in the Ulster game because the week before, against Leinster, I got stitched up in the back of my head," he says. "And I had around seven stitches from the Glasgow game the previous week. I've kept the scrum cap on now. Even growing up in school I was getting stitched every second game so I might as well try and get used to the scrum cap. If it means I won't have to go off all the time with some stupid blood injury it would be handy."

A full face helmet might be the job. The saga tells you something about his willingness to take pain though. Imagine having 18 stitches, half of them internal, laced into your chin, and then looking to go back on the field?

Each game tells a new story of what McSharry has to offer. If he continues this progress it won't be long before he gets to do it for his country as well as his adopted province. In the meantime, he'll be patient. "I'm still young and hopefully I can keep playing the way I am," he says. "If something comes of it I'll be delighted."

Something will come of it.

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