Saturday 20 July 2019

Gordon D'Arcy exclusive: 'Making the World Cup won't make or break my career'

D’Arcy will have no regrets if his bid to finish playing days on biggest stage doesn’t work out

Gordon D’Arcy: ‘Everything is there for the team to do well at the World Cup’
Gordon D’Arcy: ‘Everything is there for the team to do well at the World Cup’
D’Arcy pictured with Kyle Moloney, age 5, at yesterday’s Laya launch
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Baby Soleil D'Arcy won't remember her first visit to the Aviva Stadium but for her parents it was a special moment.

Gordon D'Arcy had watched team-mates share a moment with their young children in the aftermath of games and, having become Ireland's longest-serving player against Scotland, he got his own opportunity.

He knows it might have been his last game for his country and is realistic about his prospects of making the World Cup squad, but he is unwilling to give up the ghost and will keep trying until told he is not in the frame.

If that happens, he will walk away with his head held high having stretched an international career that began in 1999 out to a 16th season. He has given his all to the green jersey and achieved so much that there will be no sense of bitterness.

The prospect of a fourth tournament led to him extending his career by another few months after Joe Schmidt offered him the chance to impress.

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Robbie Henshaw, he acknowledges, is the man in possession of the No 12 shirt that was once his own property and given the way the numbers are stacking up, the chances of making the plane appear slim.

"There are no guarantees and that's the hardest part," he said of the pressure to succeed in camp. "On September 1, I could either be heading over to England or I could be heading home. This doesn't make or break my career.

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Ireland's Robbie Henshaw in action during squad training this week at Carton House. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

"No one can say I'm on a par with Robbie, he was borderline player of the tournament, he was the Ireland player of the Six Nations and he's the first-choice No 12 going over.

"It was always going to be a tough task for me to get into that squad and that's the reality.

"Joe wanted me to come in and compete for a place, but with everyone being fit it is going to be hard.

"I'm in a different situation from other guys. Other lads are in a situation where they have never played in a World Cup and they've gone back to their provinces and there will be established internationals who may never play in a World Cup.

"I've been very, very lucky to play in three of them. I can look back on all of the really enjoyable things. I changed my game to stay at the top table and, at some point, you have to say that if I don't get picked I can retire, look back at the bigger picture and reflect on a really, really enjoyable career. If I do get picked, then great. I get one more shot."

In November, he will pack away the training kit and pull on a suit.

A work experience stint in Investec has led to a job offer and the real world beckons. D'Arcy has been preparing for life after rugby through his involvement in the Exchequer pub and Form School, a pilates studio he runs with his wife Aoife.

Coaching and punditry don't appeal, but he does like the idea of one last lap with Lansdowne and a return to where it all began at Wexford Wanderers.

"I probably won't play much rugby, I'd like to play a couple of games for Lansdowne and one for Wexford Wanderers to finish up where it started, but I don't think I'd get involved with coaching," he explained.

"I might stay involved in Leinster on the corporate side of things or behind the scenes because it has been part of my life for 18 years but I don't have a huge amount of ambition to coach.

"I've invested in little bits and pieces over the years to have other options available. My wife opened a pilates studio and I'm involved in that, the pubs have been a good investment and are doing very well.

"You need a job, so I did some work experience in Investec last year and I'm starting there shortly after I've retired.

"Two of my former rugby-playing colleagues are in there as well as a friend of mine from when I was younger, so it's nice to be able to chat to them and particularly the rugby guys about the transition.

"It's a transition, it's not the end of the world. You've weekends off, you can plan a holiday.

"You work hard, but it's still goal-orientated and one of the things that I've figured out about myself is that I work really well to targets. My coaches figured that out about me as well and made my targets pretty hard, but being in that business with the potential to do well in that job, I'm hoping my competitiveness will transfer across."

Before his new life begins, he is hoping that his glittering career as an international rugby player has one final chapter.

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Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt in conversation with Ian Madigan during squad training. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Having been involved in training since the squad gathered on June 29, he knows the body of work Schmidt, his coaches and the players have put in.

He has banked plenty of World Cup experience and knows the vagaries of the tournament and believes a combination of factors will help Ireland succeed in England and Wales.

"Pre-season's gone very well, the planning on this is what we haven't seen in previous World Cups," he argued.

"I don't think the calibre of player is better, 2007 was the best group of players we ever had, that and 2003 was that golden generation but the key difference is the preparation and the Joe Schmidt factor.

"He puts a huge amount of faith in those around him, letting them organise their bits and pieces and puts the whole thing together.

"It is a great feeling in the camp, everyone in that 45-man squad down there has a belief that they could be on the plane to England and that's a really positive attitude. That pushes everything on.

"That creates brilliant competition and when a guy sees another guy do a little bit extra, then they might do the same and it's a real positive atmosphere."

Pressed on what Ireland might achieve, D'Arcy demurs on any grand predictions but he is confident that they will perform.

"World Cups are funny," he says.

"In 2007, people were talking about semi-finals again and we got thumped in the group stages. In 2011, nobody gave us a leg to stand on and thought we'd finish second in the group and lose to New Zealand in the quarter-final and then overnight it changes to 'We've a straight shot to the final'. Just beat Wales.

"What can be achieved and what will be achieved, you don't know.

"If everything goes right, then we've a chance to do really, really well. That's the best way to look at it, rather than saying they will or should get to a certain point in the competition.

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Leinster's Gordon D'Arcy leaves the RDS pitch for the final time

"What that level of success is will be determined by the level of performance in the competition, but it is very hard to put a marker on it.

"It's a bit like Europe; if you win your pool you make it a lot easier. You don't win your group, it becomes a lot harder.

"Australia didn't win their group, they took the hard road and got to the third/fourth play-off but were broken by the time they got there.

"The priority has to be winning the pool and, as Joe would say, once you get to the final eight of a tournament then all bets are off.

"I'm sure there's plans and everything in place for every eventuality, but it's not that we don't want to jinx it, it's just hard to predict.

"We've a really good group of players, we've a really good coach, we're playing in the northern hemisphere - everything is there for the team to do well."

D'Arcy would like another shot at getting on the plane. As one of those players who needs time to grow into a season, he was frustrated by elements of Saturday's performance which he described as "a typical first game for me".

He knows that chance may not come and that he may have worn green for the last time.

If that's the case, he'll leave the scene with no regrets and with a photograph of his family that one suspects will adorn his mantlepiece for a long time to come.

"It really was lovely," he says with a smile. "We absolutely love our daughter and I really wanted to bring her to one match, it was nice to bring her to the Aviva, to have her there... she slept through the whole thing, but she's a great little baby and it's probably more for us than anything else, but it's a brilliant memory.

"I've looked at other players who had their babies at games and it was something I'd wanted to do. It happened late in my career but I got it in the end."

New dad Gordon D'Arcy is backing Laya life's campaign to encourage new parents to consider the cost of raising kids and the importance of putting financial protection like life insurance in place to ensure their family is protected should the worst happen

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