Saturday 24 August 2019

'We have to push on. This is our last chance to get a trophy'

The Big Interview: Darren Sweetnam

Darren Sweetnam is tackled by Alex Goode of Saracens. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Darren Sweetnam is tackled by Alex Goode of Saracens. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Darren Sweetnam's girlfriend Tia Pock returns home to Scotland to continue her law career in September, but it won't be long before he can fly himself over for a visit.

One of three Munster players in the process of becoming a pilot, Sweetnam is aiming to join Luke O'Dea high in the skies. The former Munster winger is now a first officer with Ryanair and a few more current players are looking to get their wings.

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Arno Botha has already reached the target and earned his Private Plane Licence (PPL) back home in South Africa, he just needs to switch that to its Irish equivalent, while Conor Oliver looks set to begin the course after the summer.

"It is different to driving a car. There is a bit of adrenaline all right when you are up there because if you make a mistake you could end up in the ground," says Sweetnam.

"I love it and I got into it because my girlfriend's dad took me up on his little plane and I loved it. I said I would give it a go. I went down to AFTA in Cork and I had my first lesson, and absolutely loved it.

"There is definitely an enjoyable aspect. It is a nice distraction from rugby, a way to get away from it all."

Stephen Pock is a captain with British Airways and he inspired Sweetnam to head for the clouds.

But with just 10 hours of lessons under his belt, there are still another 35 on the horizon before around seven theory tests and something similar to a driving test.

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"It is something I would love to do, but it's more just taking it bit by bit. That is the thing with rugby, you can't commit fully to it," says Sweetnam.

"Luke O'Dea, he used to play with Munster, and he got a job with Ryanair. He is a commercial pilot. He flew through it.

"It is doable but it is certainly not easy. There is still a lot of study to it, a lot of maths and physics which wouldn't have been my strongest point in school. But I reckon if I work hard enough at it I will get there in the end.

"Arno Botha has his PPL licence already. He is trying to convert his South African licence. He can fly a Cessna 172. That is what I am trying to get to. We would be doing study classes together.

Help

"He has been a great help, and now Conor Oliver is thinking of doing it as well."

Sweetnam turns 26 on Sunday and still hasn't won a single piece of silverware with Munster. But he hopes to be facing into another interprovincial derby PRO14 semi-final away to Leinster after this weekend.

Last Saturday Munster beat Connacht 27-14 at Thomond Park but that victory wasn't enough to secure a home semi-final in the play-offs.

Instead they will play Benetton Rugby this weekend, and hopefully head towards the RDS with a renewed sense of confidence and optimism for a semi-final showdown with Leinster.

"Outside of last Saturday I have played nine games on the bounce now and I have been happy enough with the second part of my season," says Sweetnam.

"There is so much competition in the back three, it is very difficult which is good as well. It drives you on.

"With Andrew Conway and Earlsy playing so well, and Mike Haley playing unbelievably well too, Calvin Nash and Alex Wootton.

"You see the way Stephen Fitzgerald played last weekend for Connacht and he had to move.

"It's tough but I am happy now with the way things are going. I just need to push on and hopefully fight for a spot this weekend.

"I have to put my best foot forward, train hard and hopefully I get to play. I just to want to win trophies.

"Whatever we do, even if I am not playing, I want to win."

Sweetnam has now scored 17 tries in 76 appearances for Munster, but having never won anything in the underage ranks either he is desperate to change that in the PRO14.

Munster are without silverware since winning the Celtic League in 2011 but they are determined to finish this season on a high.

And Sweetnam is coming in to form at just the right time to help deliver that success.

He played all 80 minutes and scored a try in the Ricoh Arena on April 20, but that was another agonising defeat to Saracens in a Champions Cup semi-final.

"I wasn't in the Munster 'A' team when they when they won the B&I Cup, so I haven't won anything, even in the Munster U-18 and U-20 I have won nothing with Munster," adds Sweetnam.

"It's almost sickening because I have been with Munster for nearly eight years and I still haven't won anything.

"It's tough. You watch those big games and think what can you do to win a trophy, and especially a European trophy.

"We have the squad of players we just need to get past that semi-final mark and win something."

All of the attention has turned to the league and a first title there since 2011, a third European title will have to wait until next year after their Champions Cup hopes were ended by Saracens.

But Munster won't be thinking about their potential final-four tie against Leinster until they can negotiate the sizeable Benetton proposition facing them.

Shock

Benetton became the first Italian outfit to qualify for the knockout stages of the PRO14 last weekend, and Kieran Crowley's side will be more than capable of springing a shock victory at Thomond Park tomorrow.

"Treviso have some incredible players. Their back three are very dangerous.

"Even over there we were very lucky. They are a very good side so we won't take them for granted," says Sweetnam.

"It is great for rugby all over to see them doing well. Ian Keatley is going over there next year as well so he will add to them a bit more.

"They have qualified for Europe as well. It's great for rugby and Italian rugby especially.

"But we just want to win some silverware at the end of the day. Saracens was my third semi-final in a row in Europe and nothing came of it again.

"We need to push on now and this is our last chance to get a trophy this year.

"Treviso is a massive game. They are playing well and they have so many dangerous players.

"We will be fully focused on that game and see where we will go after that."

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