Security will be tight in the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey tomorrow night for the clash between the USA and Ireland but AJ MacGinty is no stranger to being escorted in and out of this fixture.
MacGinty, the Dublin native who played a key role in Connacht’s PRO12 campaign last year and who will be out-half for the USA against Ireland tomorrow evening, was beginning his American odyssey four years ago when Ireland beat their hosts, 15-12, in Houston.
He left Ireland with a degree in accountancy and after working for a time in a pub in New York, resumed his studies in Atlanta and began working his way through the rugby ranks in the US. He headed to the match in Houston knowing players from both teams and recalls the incredible pre-match atmosphere at the BBVA Compass Stadium.
“It was mental. They had the tailgating parties going on. They had to come out and say ‘Hey everybody, the anthems are on, can you please enter the stadium’.”
He was chaperoned into the stadium and escorted out after staging a one-man pitch invasion. “At the time the guy I live with in New York was playing 10 for US and (Ian) Madigan was playing 10 for Ireland. So I ran onto the pitch in Houston. They were both chatting to each other so I hugged them both. Then the stewards came over and they said, ‘No, he’s our brother’.
“Supposedly you can get arrested for that (invading a sports field) in America. I was being carried off and taken off through the Irish media!”
MacGinty will go in and out a more convention route for tomorrow’s game, which is expected to attract a full house, and he has come to terms with the awkwardness of playing against Ireland. “I love playing and I want to play the highest level possible. If playing for America does that, I love doing that. Obviously when I got capped by America, I wondered would I ever play Ireland. This is a good time to be playing Ireland but this is a good time to be playing for America.”
MacGinty doesn’t regard himself as one of those players who slipped through the net — by his own admission, he wasn’t even in the pool to be fished out.
He described himself as “tiny” as an 18-year old when he was hovering between scrum-half and out-half, but has since put on some muscle to weigh in at 92kg.
Playing in the World Cup was a dream come true and then just a few weeks later he was making his first start for Connacht in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, taking over the No.10 shirt and steering Pat Lam’s men to that unforgettable PRO12 final win over Leinster.
“It was just such a good year. Everything about that place just brings back such good memories,” recalled the 27-year old. “Everything about it was class. After that season when we won we got back to Galway and we had a big night out together but then I was gone on the Monday to get into camp up here (in the US). I didn’t even get proper goodbyes. I just briefly said goodbye to the lads. I only saw a few of them after that. It will be good to see them again, playing on opposite sides.”
The Ireland game is the first of four this summer for the USA, with two World Cup qualifying games to come against Canada. Indeed, MacGinty could find himself opposite a Connacht teammate from last year with Limerick native Shane O’Leary included in the Canadian squad.
Former All Black John Mitchell is leaving as Eagles head coach to take charge of the Blue Bulls in South Africa and MacGinty said they want to send him off on a high. “John Mitchell is going to be a big loss but he has set benchmarks for us to aim towards. The stuff we are doing now is the elite of the elite, to my knowledge. It is all the work being done by New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams and they are dominating the game down there.”
MacGinty’s parents Vivienne and Alan — he’s the principal at Blackrock College — are over for the game along with family and friends and who knows, maybe they will stage their own invasion if AJ inspires the Eagles to a first win in nine games against Ireland.
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