There were occasions when Darren Sweetnam seriously wondered whether he had made the right call in late 2013 when turning his back on a certain place in the Cork senior hurling team to sign a professional rugby contract with Munster.
He was 19 when he joined the academy that season and made gradual rather than spectacular progress before making his PRO12 debut against Cardiff in February 2015.
A native of Dunmanway and an Ireland international at hockey and badminton but above all a magnificent hurler, he had come on as a substitute for Cork in the losing 2012 All-Ireland senior hurling semi-final against Galway.
After such an occasion, it was never going to be easy to shake off the tag of “Sweetnam the hurler”.
“Yerrah, I’ll never get sick of it,” he smiles.
“It’ll probably follow me forever, especially living in Cork, where hurling is everything.
“It was a hard decision and a risk, I was playing Cork senior hurling while playing for the Munster U20s.
“I actually rang Graham Burns the manager and said I’m going to stick with the hurling.
“But then the coach Greig Oliver got on to me that day and asked me to meet him one more time and bring my Dad along.
“So, I met with him and he changed my mind. I played the U20s campaign, then I got offered an academy contract.
“I had to choose. It was tough, it was such a buzz with the Cork hurlers to play in front of that Croke Park crowd and then I was playing AIL.
“But I knew I was just starting off and I would be better off in the long run and I am better off now. I’m working my way slowly.
“It’s nice play a few games and make my name as Darren the rugby player.”
While Sweetnam isn’t exactly the biggest rugby player in the world by by modern day standards, he points out that “I came into the academy at 79kg, I’m playing at 93kg now and that’s a big progression. So, I’ve obviously gotten bigger and stronger and that’s very important against the size of the lads we face. I have played every game so far and really enjoying it.”
His team-mates keep reminding Sweetnam of how he dropped the ball having crossed the line against the Dragons in Newport recently and of how Cian Bohane saved his blushes: “Oh, don’t talk to me! I owe him my life. I actually got some shock, thank God he was there.”
He was, of course, trying to make the conversion attempt easier and the coaching team, in recognising this, haven’t been too harsh on him:
“They didn’t even show it in the review. They knew I’d learnt my lesson.
“I’ll put it down next time, I’ll worry about my job and the kickers can worry about theirs.”
Everything so far indicates Sweetnam has responded to the arrival of the new coaching ticket.
“It was a big pre-season for all of us, trying to impress the new coaches. It went well for me, I didn’t have any injuries.
“I’m trying to impress every day in training and in matches. There’s so much competition with Keith Earls, Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway, and Ronan O’Mahony.”
Offloading is one of the features of Sweetnam’s game and he acknowledges: “I do like it. It’s good for continuity. It’s just a thing I have (in my locker).
“The coaches are happy for me to do it, they don’t want you to be afraid to try things. Otherwise it’ll just be boring rugby, so I’d always try to get the offload.”
He has no qualms at having to move from Cork to Limerick: “I’m actually really enjoying it. I’m living two minutes away from UL so it’s really convenient.
“It saves me driving an hour and a half. It’s better for your recovery, there’s a good buzz around the place and we see more of the Limerick lads. It’s better for team bonding. I’m living with Pete McCabe.
“And I love the new training centre. It’s state of the art and everything you need is there”.
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