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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 22 May, 2019
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MacGinty denied Connacht return but big 2019 ahead for Ireland's Eagle

The Dublin-born out-half misses Sale’s game against Connacht this afternoon, but won’t let his injury setback knock him off course.

WHEN THE DIAGNOSIS was delivered to AJ MacGinty, and it was decided that the best course of action was to go under the knife, he highlighted today’s date in the calendar as when he wanted to be back for. Saturday 12 January. Connacht away. 

A shoulder injury sustained during USA’s summer schedule had been troubling him during the opening rounds of the Premiership season, and after extensive rehab work on it failed to result in any improvements, surgery was the only option. But there was a lot to weigh up.

AJ MacGinty MacGinty misses today's game in Galway through injury. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Not only would an operation and a 12-week layoff rule MacGinty out of the November internationals, and a return to Dublin with the Eagles, but the first half of Sale’s domestic and European campaign, while the World Cup was also firmly on his mind.

“I came back from summer with the niggle,” he explains to The42. “And I played the first few games of the Premiership season with Sale but it was bothering me. I wasn’t playing at 100% and that was frustrating.

“Performance-wise, I wasn’t playing as well as I would have liked and we tried to rehab it but it wasn’t improving. I had to go down the surgery route. It was a devastating blow.”

MacGinty had the procedure in early October but as he prepared to embark on another rehabilitation programme instantly targeted this afternoon’s Challenge Cup game against Connacht at the Sportsground as the one he wanted to be back for. 

Having been part of Pat Lam’s Pro12-winning side back in 2016, Galway will always be a special place for MacGinty and a return to face his former side would have certainly evoked memories of that historic and extraordinary season. 

But unfortunately the out-half remains a number of weeks away from a full return having only just resumed contact training with rest of the Sale squad, and today’s Pool 3 encounter comes too soon for him. This was the game he wanted to play in most.

“It would have been such a good game to go back over to, with the top two in the pool going head-to-head,” he says. “But unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. Hopefully, there will be another occasion for a return to the Sportsground.”

MacGinty will hope to be back should Sale progress through to the Challenge Cup quarter-finals, with Steve Diamond’s side three points ahead of second-placed Connacht heading into today’s round five clash [KO 3pm].

The important thing for the 28-year-old, in this year of all years, is to take his time in his injury comeback, continue to be diligent in his rehab and only return when it feels right, rather than rushing back.

Injuries, and indeed setbacks, have been part of the Dublin-born USA international’s career so far, as he arrived into the professional game via an alternative, and less-travelled, route. 

During his time in Blackrock College — where his father, Alan, is the principal — MacGinty seemed destined to follow many of his school friends and make the transition into the Leinster academy, but instead his journey took him to America at the age of 21.

AJ MacGinty In action against Ireland in June 2017. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

After a brief time working in a bar in New York, a scholarship at the Life University in Atlanta allowed MacGinty to combine rugby and academics, and pursue an international career. 

He made the switch from J1 to F1 visa status, and that’s when everything changed. Three years of residency in the States allowed him to play for their national side, and after impressing in a trial game for Life against the Eagles, became available in time for the 2015 World Cup in England.

“When I went to that World Cup, I had just come out of college,” he laughs. “I was a college student pretty much and it was a shop window for me. You want to perform at your best because it does open up other opportunities and I was very grateful I got that opportunity.”

MacGinty starred for the Eagles during that tournament, featuring in all three pool games, earning him a move home and a contract with Connacht for that magical season under Lam, as the western province made history against Leinster at Murrayfield.

His performances in the 10 jersey for Connacht that year, as his reliable boot and exciting playmaking ability caught the eye, were putting him on the radar of clubs in England, and MacGinty signed a deal with Sale ahead of the 2016/17 season.

“It couldn’t have finished any better when I left Connacht,” he says. “At the time, I wasn’t really thinking about my future and that just ended the way it did. It was amazing and once you get a taste of that, you want more and you want to be as successful as possible. When I was in Connacht, I just never thought we’d lose a game and we were just full of confidence. 

“The year I had in Connacht was unbelievable. It will never repeat itself. Pat Lam would often say ‘this team is never going to be together again, you’ll meet each other here and there, but you’ll never play with this group again.’ And he’s right, it’ll never happen again.

“But the goal since I left Connacht was to be part of a winning team and a team that is winning trophies again as it’s just such a special thing in anyone’s career.”

After an injury-disrupted first season in Manchester, MacGinty really hit his straps with the Sharks last term and became a key player for Diamond’s side, establishing himself as one of the Premiership’s best out-halves.

Since his breakthrough moment at the World Cup, MacGinty has shown huge improvements across his whole game, most notably his laser-like kicking accuracy, superb game-management skills and strong defensive prowess.

“Year-on-year, you always want to improve and develop as a rugby player,” he continues.

Bundee Aki and AJ MacGinty celebrate MacGinty helped Connacht to the Pro12 title in 2016. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Individual skills such as your kicking, your passing, your tackling and your decision-making. Going into that Connacht side, there was so much confidence and buzz around the team and I pretty much went in like a sponge and was trying to take in as much information as I could and got some really good coaching there which has helped me develop even more.

“Coming into Sale was a new environment and a team beginning its journey under new owners and there was a change up of players. Now the owners have put together a strong squad and our confidence is growing, but it takes time. It was a frustrating first year because having the year in Connacht, everything was set in place and I took that for granted and now seeing the other side of professional rugby, that these things take time.

After a frustrating first year here, last season I kicked on and it’s starting to pay off now and we just have to keep it going now. We have to perform and produce big performances week in, week out. It’s exciting about where we’re going but we have to keep working hard.

While the 2019 World Cup is approaching quickly, MacGinty’s immediate focus is on getting back to full fitness to play an important role in the second half of the season for Sale, as they look to continue on their recent upward curve under Diamond.

After tasting success with Connacht, MacGinty is hungry to experience more at the AJ Bell Stadium having signed a four-year contract extension with the Premiership outfit last March.

“I’ve never really thought about going back to Ireland since I’ve been with Sale, because I want to repeat that [winning] feeling with Sale,” he adds.

“Right now the goal is to be part of a Sale team that wins the Premiership or wins a European Cup. That’s where the head and heart is at the moment.”

Connacht:

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Cian Kelleher
13. Kyle Godwin
12. Bundee Aki
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. James Mitchell

1. Denis Buckley
2. Tom McCartney
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Ultan Dillane
5. James Cannon
6. Eoghan Masterson
7. James Connolly
8. Jarrad Butler (captain).

Replacements:

16. Shane Delahunt
17. Matthew Burke
18. Conor Carey
19. Quinn Roux
20. Colby Fainga’a
21. Caolin Blade
22. David Horwitz
23. Darragh Leader.

Sale Sharks:

15. Chris Ashton
14. Denny Solomona
13. Sam James
12. James O’Connor
11. Aaron Reed
10. Kieran Wilkinson
9. Faf De Klerk

1. Ross Harrison
2. Rob Webber
3. Willgriff John
4. Bryn Evans
5. James Phillips
6. Jono Ross (captain)
7. Tom Curry
8. Josh Strauss.

Replacements:

16. Curtis Langdon
17. Tom Bristow
18. Joe Jones
19. Andrei Ostrikov
20. Ben Curry
21. Will Cliff
22. Luke James
23. Cameron Redpath.

Referee: Pierre Brousset [France].

Ahead of a huge weekend of Heineken Champions Cup action, Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey assess the provinces’ chances of putting a foot in the last eight:


Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

Subscribe to our new podcast, Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42, here:

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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