Gavin Duffy graduated from CIT with a degree in chemical engineering in the middle of the recession, but a willingness to travel for work — and rugby — paid off. Soon to start work in his native Cork, he lines out for Cork Constitution against Clontarf in tomorrow’s Ulster Bank League Division 1A final.
Q: What’s your path been to this point in your career?
A: I have actually moved around a few clubs. I didn’t go to a rugby school. I went to a GAA school. I played with Sunday’s Well up to the age of 18 and on a very successful team.
At that stage I went to CIT and I spent four years there. After that I had to travel a bit trying to get work so I played a bit over in Belgium. I was over there for a year working with an engineering company in Brussels.
Q: What’s Belgian rugby like?
A: I was planning to keep on with the rugby in Ireland while I was there but you obviously need to train during the week and accommodation was so expensive. But it turned out great. They were an expat club, Brussels Celtics. Lads working in the EU and that. There was 14 different nationalities so it was a great team to play for. Very interesting and it was great craic.
They wouldn’t take rugby as seriously as we do here but it was nice to see that. There was a nice social scene to it that you could say has been kind of lost to the AIL.
Q: So rugby helped you settle in over there?
A: When I was first over there you’d nearly be dreading the weekend because you’ve landed in a new city. You know no-one and they don’t all speak English. It’s a lot of time to fill but when I joined the club they were all the same age and in the same situation. It was a ready-made gang of friends.
I had a great year over there and I’d recommend anyone travelling to join a rugby club. My brother Luke is actually doing the same at the moment. He is over in Stuttgart and he has had the very same experience as me. He’s loving it. He plays with Con too so hopefully he’ll be back next year.
Q: So where did life take you after that?
A: I was working in Dublin for a while and playing with Old Belvedere for four months. Then I moved again when I got work down in Limerick. I was with Old Crescent then, finished out that season and now this is my fifth year with Con. The pharmaceutical industry is very strong in Cork now but at the time (of the downturn) none of the companies were investing and there were no real jobs so you had to travel or else you were unemployed.
Q: How hard is it to balance the day job and your rugby commitments as an AIL player?
A: I’m in Maynooth for a month at the minute before starting down in Cork so there is a lot of travelling up and down for training and then I’m doing my own stuff while I’m up here. Yeah, it is unrelenting in that you’re training every day.
In (Division) 1A if you’re not doing weights and fitness on your own and looking after yourself you’re not going to last long. You’re going to get injured or you won’t be starting.
You see the commitments towards the end of the season. We had a league semi-final, a Bateman Cup final and now an AIL final all one week after another. There’s not that much let-up. It’s like another part-time job.
Q: How rewarding is rugby at this level? It goes under the radar for most of the year.
A: We’re not in it for the fans or anything. We are in it for each other but it is shocking to see how little crowds are, and it is a high level of rugby. To go and watch it there are some great games there. It is kinda sad in a way that there is very little at games.
Q: There won’t be a huge crowd at the Aviva but would you have it played anywhere else?
A: We played the Bateman final last week in Old Belvedere. For me anyway it is great to come to the Aviva. To tog off in the dressing rooms is just a great experience and the post-match stuff in the stadium itself is just great. It’s a fantastic pitch. I played the final there (against Clontarf) last year obviously and I’ve played Lansdowne there a few times and it’s just a great surface to play on.
Q: Is the AIL still a decent launchpad for players looking to go pro?
A: Playing 1A there, you could play against certain players and teams and the week before all your analysis is just on one player and you are thinking ‘how is he not professional?’
I don’t know. I don’t know how much the academies are looking at AIL rugby. It’s hard to get into that loop of the academies if you are a player who comes from nowhere. It’s hard to get a contract with the Munster or Leinster academy.
Q: You lost by three points to Clontarf in 2016. What would the win this year mean?
A: We were heartbroken to see Clontarf lift it last year. We were all hungry enough for an AIL title anyway but, after being up here last year and seeing what it’s all about, has made us all the hungrier. Defeat does get to you. Our mission is to win the AIL. That’s it.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved