Stand-out club player sees bright times ahead in pro game
Clontarf centre desperate to make step-up with Reds after getting his big chance to shine
As he continues to fight for his place at Munster, Matt D'Arcy is using the Ulster Bank League as the platform to sharpen his skills.
The format of the league has come in for some criticism recently, but the Clontarf clubman says the standards have never been so high.
And he is probably the best representative of what club rugby on this island can offer to players who have not come through the conventional academy route.
The 24-year-old is the Ulster Bank League Division 1A Player of the Year, and was last season's leading try scorer as his side were pipped by Lansdowne in a pulsating decider.
He also captained the Ireland Clubs team last season.
Munster heads were turned and D'Arcy could not resist the opportunity to join the former European Cup champions and 2014-15 Pro12 runners-up.
"I couldn't turn down the opportunity to join such a big club, one of the biggest in Europe," he says.
"Munster has such a great history. I couldn't overlook such a great team and I knew that they had a really good set-up too.
"I had never been involved in any professional set-up. I wasn't in any of the academies so I suppose Munster wanted to put me through my paces in the pre-season.
"One of the big things was to see how your body could cope with it because it is a lot of load on the body that I wouldn't have been used to. So the initial three months were seeing how I got through pre-season.
"I think the lads were happy enough with how I went so I got my deal extended until Christmas pending a review, just to tick another few boxes, and I like that because it keeps me on my toes.
"I have got things to work on and this drives me forward because I have another few goals to reach - it is nice in one way to have that going on in the background."
D'Arcy has not featured for the Munster senior side yet, but he is playing his part in the Ulster Bank League where Clontarf lead the way in 1A.
'Tarf have churned out the talent in recent years: Mick McGrath went to Leinster and still burns it up on the wing for his club, Colm O'Shea does likewise in the centre, while Royce Burke-Flynn and Ian Hirst were also snapped up by Leinster at the end of last term.
Lock Mick Kearney joined Leinster from Connacht during the summer, and he has used Clontarf to reacclimatise himself to the rip-roaring nature of the Pro12.
So the talent is there, and the Clontarf native, whose twin brother Adrian packs down at openside flanker for the local team, says club rugby is as strong as ever.
"Whenever there is not an 'A' game, or I am not involved in the senior squad, the league is a good outlet to keep sharp," he says.
"The standard in the league is still really high, and every week you are playing against different representative players. So definitely it made the step up that bit easier for me.
"The World Cup is on at the moment, it has given the guys from the AIL opportunities and they are coming through. You can see how the league has helped them.
"You have the Clubs internationals as well - I captained Ireland last year. I was absolutely delighted, and they are a really great concept. They get together the best players in the league and you get to go away and represent your country.
"A lot of players around the league don't get the accolades they deserve for putting in all of the effort. It is a huge commitment to be training three times a week.
"People get the acknowledgement of being the best in the league (with the Clubs internationals). Everyone takes it very seriously but it is unbelievable craic, you get a nice trip away, you get to represent your country and play with people who you normally would have been playing against.
"Some people nearly think about axing it, or in some years it hasn't happened. But that was one of the highlights of my season last year."
But the biggest moment was signing on the dotted line at Munster, and D'Arcy relishes the challenges that lie ahead.
He started playing as a five-year-old with Clontarf, and played rugby and cricket all the way up, with his club. D'Arcy was schooled in Belvedere College, and won a Leinster Senior Schools Cup in 2008 along with the likes of Colm O'Shea and Tom Sexton.
D'Arcy lives with long-time friend Jordan Coghlan and fellow Dubliner Conor Oliver in Limerick. And that has made the bedding-in process a lot easier ahead of a big chapter in his life.
"It is nice to have the couple of guys you know when you are living away from home. But the Munster guys were so welcoming and after the first week or two, you know all of them," he says.
"The guys down here are really helpful when I go up to Dublin. If I am missing anything it would only be gym and the guys will give me a programme.
"I wouldn't do much with Clontarf, maybe just a bit of skill work, and I would keep it light enough. But I would do gym sessions that I have with Munster on the Friday by myself in Dublin, then relay that back to the guys down here.
"You are in constant communication with them, but it's great that you can work it all together."