Sunday 27 May 2018

'Ulster glory can help me to change Joe's mind'

Tuohy eyes way into Schmidt's plans through successful European assault

Ulster’s Dan Tuohy didn’t start playing rugby until he was 18
Ulster’s Dan Tuohy didn’t start playing rugby until he was 18
David Kelly

David Kelly

Dan Tuohy shakes his head wearily and warily. It's no use. He can't contain himself.

There's something he needs to get off his chest. He simply doesn't feel his side have got what it takes to persist.

Just not good enough. Plain and simple. Other teams are better than his and that's what sticks in the craw.

"No, we won't last the pace to win anything this season," he sighs, forlornly chugging at a water bottle like a reluctant toddler.

"It's between the top three at the minute, and probably City's to lose, given their away form. It's between us and Everton for fourth and we could nick that with our goalscoring form alone. We have to finish fourth to hang on to Suarez, but then the problem."

Whoa! We forgot to inform you that the Ulster lock is a passionate Liverpool fan. Soccer thieved his heart before any other. He didn't start playing with an oval ball until he was 18 and, after a brief dual playing existence, rugby turned his head and became his new suitor.

So last night, as the 28-year-old spoke to his dad in England, the chat was predominantly about the weekend's unusual pre-eminence of the Premier League's top seven, not the mathematical vagaries of Heineken Cup qualification.

REGRET

His one regret is that his grandfather never got to see him hold a rugby ball. A deeper regret is that he hasn't spent enough time rooting himself in the place where his life story really began.

His grandfather Michael left Cashel in Tipperary during the 1950s as just one of this country's millions of economic migrants; Michael's brother Mossie made sliotars locally.

On arrival in England, Michael settled in Wiveliscombe, near Taunton in the county of Somerset, and worked at the Hinkley Power Point.

Dan's father Simon met Sue and started his family in the small Devon village of Bovey Tracey, where the national sport gripped the youngster.

The only outlet was a local side that was hardly serious -- it housed all the Sunday League cliches from the mad goalie to the fey winger and the psychotic midfield hard man.

"It was all I knew," Tuohy admits. "They were all sizes and ages. It was just good fun, never serious. Anyway, by the time I got to 13 or 14, I'd parachuted into this enormous, ungainly figure and became really uncoordinated."

So, more Zlatan than Ade Akinbiyi, then? "I'm going to say Ibrahimovic of course! I wasn't too bad. I was alright at 13. It's funny seeing some of these rugby lads who can't kick a football without losing their balance.

"Football was my life growing up. It's massive in my family. I'm massively outnumbered here with all the Man Utd fans, the legacy of George Best, I guess. I've the upper hand at the moment though, which is fun!"

The oval ball hit him with the force of Newton's apple; it wasn't as if he immediately dreamed of a professional life, more wondered why the game had remained such a secret to him.

His schoolmates had cajoled him to join a Colts side and, imperceptibly, Tuohy's career slowly ascended.

"I mixed a bit between the two sports for a while," he admits. "But I soon figured out that there was more enjoyment in rugby. That was really it at the start -- enjoyment."

He had trials with Bristol and Bath, was good enough to get a scholarship to the well-established West Country breeding ground, Hartpury College, eventually linking up with Gloucester and their 'A' team in what used to be a pretty febrile Zurich League back then.

He ascended to Gloucester's first-team full-time in '08, then floated around the lower divisions until former Ulster coach Matt Williams took a punt on the 6' 5" lock in the spring of 2009.

By the following year, he had become only the seventh international to score within a minute of a debut, stunning the All Blacks with a breakaway try in the 66-28 defeat in New Plymouth.

Ironically, it was a breakaway run that initially propelled him into the Ireland spotlight. "He's to blame," he smiles, pointing out team-mate Callum Black, another West Country exile who has opted to represent Ireland.

Black alerted the indomitable IRFU Exiles' duo, Ces Shaw and John Hunter, about his university buddy with the skyscraping hands.

"Next thing, I'm in Donnybrook playing a trial game for Leinster 'A'," Tuohy recalls. "I've made a 60-yard break and I'm thinking 'okay.' It was a bit of a fluke really, confirmed when I tried to step the full-back and made a mess of it."

His Ireland U-21 side had stars -- Sexton, O'Brien, Cave, Toner -- but they didn't achieve all that much. Tuohy never looked back, even though he genuinely feels that seven caps in seven years represents a limited return.

There are those who cajole the cases of players like Tuohy for representing Ireland by dint of the grandfather ruling; meeting him taunts the opinions of those extreme parochial types.

"I get asked frequently would I swap back to England," says Tuohy, a faintly discernible 'Last of the Summer Wine' whine betraying his image as a second-row enforcer.

"Because Ireland gave me that chance in 2005, I consider it is such a big honour for me in terms of rugby. I know there's controversy in terms of residency and the grandparent rule. Some people think I should have been born here to play here. For me, I've loved coming over. I've actually played for Irish teams for seven years, so it's been a massive part of my life. My parents are proud."

He is in Joe Schmidt's extended Six Nations squad, but Tuohy's expectations are honestly limited.

"Joe's a good guy. If he wants to pick me, I'm ready, I know that's the case. Personally, I don't think I'm going to be in his plans come the Six Nations. But I'm trying to change his mind and that's all I can do. And being part of a winning side here gives me a much better chance of changing his mind."

Especially considering he reckons that Ulster have a better chance of lasting the pace compared to his other beloved, Liverpool.

"I can control what's going on here," he smiles. "So I've a bit more faith in Ulster than Liverpool."

Irish Independent

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