Darren Sweetnam turned up for training at UL this week with an extra bounce in his step.
It wasn’t just because of his vital part in Munster’s comeback victory over Ospreys on Saturday, because he also had the favourable comments of Brian O’Driscoll ringing in his ears.
“Big fan of Darren Sweetnam”, tweeted O’Driscoll. “Think he’ll be capped by the end of year.”
Big fan of Darren Sweetnam. Think he'll be capped by the end of the year.— Brian O'Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll) February 18, 2017
Reminded of such a tribute from one of the game’s legendary figures, the 23-year-old Dunmanway native quipped: “Oh yeah ... my agent is good friends with him and must have slipped him a little bit of coin under the table.
“But it’s nice to be recognised by one of the greatest of all Irish players. It’s everyone’s ambition growing up in Ireland playing rugby to play for Ireland at some stage so, yeah, it’s an aspiration.”
O’Driscoll’s attention has obviously been captured by Sweetnam’s pace, brilliant running lines and expertise in the air among other aspects of his game that have already brought him to the notice of Ireland coach Joe Schmidt. “Sweets”, as he is known in the Munster camp, has not been showing ill-effects of a knee injury sustained against Leinster on St Stephen’s Day that kept him out of action for six weeks.
“It was a nice old holiday for myself but it’s great to be back, and especially after a great win over Ospreys. It wasn’t the ideal start. We knew how good their attack was, we knew it was going to be difficult because they have scored the most tries in the league. We were giving away too many yards in defence but we stuck at it and got the win in the end. Our confidence levels are the highest since I’ve been here. We’re down 17-3 and it just shows the positive attitude that we didn’t give up. When they got those tries, we went into a huddle behind the posts. Jacques Nienaber (skills coach and physio) came over and he’s so positive — we had this motto where we were going to win some battles and lose some battles. I was at fault for two of the tries but he said, ‘just try and smile about it and forget about it, move on’. And that’s what we did. We went up for the restart and concentrated from there.”
Munster must do it again on Friday (7.35pm) when fourth-placed Scarlets are visitors to Thomond Park. “They’re another team in form,” acknowledged Sweetnam. “They’ve lost one game in the last 12 and we know it is going to be difficult.”
Having spent much of the earlier years in his sporting life impressing on the hurling arena, Sweetnam appreciates that all the help he gets from the Munster coaching staff can only be hugely beneficial. And in that regard, he has massive respect for former Ireland and Munster fullback Felix Jones. “When I was in the academy, Felix was the ultimate professional. As a player, he did everything so professionally and I think he carried that into his coaching career. He has such great knowledge of the game, especially for back three players. He’s so hard working, I’d say he’d be up till all hours looking at the videos of matches. His attention to detail is excellent, and it shows.”
And so to the final question: “who was the greatest Cork hurler to play for Munster — Tomás O’Leary or Darren Sweetnam? He smiled: “Tomás only played minor for Cork whereas I played senior although he won an All-Ireland and I didn’t win anything. We’ll say it’s a draw.”
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