When he returned from a stint in Australia two years ago, a career in professional rugby was the furthest thing from the mind of Leinster winger Darragh Fanning.
Impressive displays for St Mary’s College in the Ulster Bank League led to opportunities for the province’s ‘A’ selection, however, and since making his first-team debut against the Scarlets last season, he has not looked back.
The 28-year-old has been an ever-present in the Blues’ back-three this term, and having already contributing five tries from 10 appearances, he is eager to continue his rapid progression.
“I thought it was gone for me two years ago. Never thought I’d play a Pro12 game even, let alone play a couple of European Championship games. I’m here now and it’s great. I’ve loved the last 18 months and hopefully I can just keep pushing on,” Fanning says.
As he reflects on what has been a very eventful period from a personal point of view, Fanning recalls a recent conversation he had with one of his coaches in the southern hemisphere.
Dan McKellar — who is now assistant coach of the Brumbies, and was previously involved with Wicklow RFC — had offered a helping hand to Fanning upon his departure from Australia. Though he felt picking up a contract was completely unrealistic at the time, he now realises that it is never too late to make the step up.
“It’s funny. Dan McKellar, rang me a few weeks ago and started slagging me. When I left there I remember really well, I was leaving Australia to come home to start work, which I did. And he was talking about contacting Calvisano or he could get me references of Laurie Fisher or Jake White.
“He quoted me — I had said I’d have ‘more chance of winning the Euromillions’ next week than picking up a contract at home. It just shows there are still opportunities in the AIL. A lot of lads, if you pass the Leinster 20s and you’re not being selected, that’s it. But I’ve proved them wrong.”
With some big names coming back into contention, the next three games could well be a defining period for Fanning. Two big European encounters are on the horizon, but for now, the focus will be on this Saturday’s clash with Ospreys at the RDS.
“The Ospreys are top of the league and it’s going to be as physical and quick as any European game I’ve ever played. We might get a few of the lads back from the Irish camp, which would be good, but whoever is selected, everyone is gunning for this game at the weekend. Everyone just wants to get back on the pitch after last weekend’s disappointment (drawing at Treviso) and kick on. It’s a massive few weeks. Harlequins will be tough, but we’re focused on Ospreys this week.”
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