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Dublin: 16 °C Saturday 21 September, 2019
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'I’ve told him I’ll come back and get him' - Connacht sorry MacGinty must leave

The USA international out-half has been a revelation for Connacht.

LAST YEAR, AJ MacGinty was playing college rugby in the USA.

Fast forward 12 months and the 26-year-old former Life University out-half is preparing to play a prominent role in Connacht’s Guinness Pro12 final against Leinster at Murrayfield.

His rise has been remarkable.

AJ MacGinty MacGinty was excellent against Glasgow last weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Dubliner MacGinty came through Blackrock College – where his father Alan is the long-standing principal – and played in the AIL with Blackrock RFC, but was not marked out for stardom.

He moved to New York and played club rugby with NYAC in 2012, while working in a bar, before his father and Tony Smeeth – Trinity’s director of rugby, who is well connected in the States – set him up with a coaching position at Life University in Atlanta, where he also studied for a Master’s degree Excercise and Sports Science.

Three years of diligent hard work later, and after a series of impressive performances for Life U, he was the starting out-half for the US at the Rugby World Cup and subsequently signed for Connacht.

Unfortunately for the province, MacGinty is moving on to Premiership side Sale next season, with the upcoming arrival of South African out-half Marnitz Boshoff meaning Connacht could not keep another non-Irish-qualified player in that position.

Pat Lam says he pleaded with IRFU performance director David Nucifora for an exemption, but instead had to help MacGinty secure a contract elsewhere.

“I knew at the beginning of the season that we were a little bit light for injuries and we don’t really have a lot of money in the sense of the squad that was already in place, so I was concerned,” explains Lam of how he came to sign MacGinty – whose cousin Dave Gannon previously played for Connacht.

“I was actually reading an article that highlighted that he was an Irish boy from Dublin, so in the World Cup, I took an interest in [the USA game against] Samoa and he did really well.

“The thing I liked about him was his physicality and his tackling and I know the Samoan guys and I thought ‘hmmm, okay, this is good’. Then we did a bit of homework and got in touch and realised he had nothing arranged for after the World Cup.

AJ MacGinty MacGinty arrived at Connacht in October. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We had a meeting and we brought him up here, we talked about what we do and he’s loving it. It’s the first time he’s ever been a professional rugby player.”

The idea behind luring Boshoff to Connacht is to provide them with a strong kicking option for their demanding winter fixtures, but it now means MacGinty must leave.

“I’d already been talking to Marnitz the year before and I knew he was available and the bit of Jack [Carty]’s game, his goalkicking… I know what we can do in the first part of the season but in my experience in the Northern Hemisphere in the middle part of the season, you’ve got to be able to win games in December, January.

“If we’re going to be in the Champions Cup then the goal was to make sure we had a really good kicking game and that’s when we went for Boshoff.

“After that, Jack got injured and then he [MacGinty] got a run of games so I was keen to keep him, very keen to keep him. Obviously, we’d signed Boshoff so I pleaded with David [Nucifora], ‘any chance?’ but I knew we can’t block the Irish path.”

With his hands tied, Lam turned to his contacts in England to ensure that MacGinty got the best offer possible. Northampton’s Jim Mallinder, Worcester’s Dean Ryan, Dean Richards at Newcastle and Sale boss Steve Diamond were all called.

“I spoke to Steven Diamond on a Wednesday and he says, ‘would you back him?’ and I replied, ‘I’ve already told him he can sign for two years [at another club] and I’ll come back and get him, wherever I am, I’ll come get him’ and Steve Diamond says, ‘right’.

Bundee Aki celebrates scoring his side's first try with AJ MacGinty MacGinty has defended superbly and attacked the line well. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“He flew him over on the Saturday and signed him up. He just trusted my call on it and I’m pleased for him. I know you might say ‘what if he hadn’t gone down the American route?’ but if he hadn’t he might have been lost to the system so it’s great that he’s here.”

Lam is not the only one in the Connacht set-up to be downhearted about MacGinty’s impending departure, with captain John Muldoon singing the playmaker’s praises too.

The back row believes MacGinty’s defensive strength are comparable to those of one of the all-time greats.

“I think Sale are getting a gem there,” says Muldoon. “It took him a while to bed in and get his game, get into the style of play but I think it’s absolutely incredible to come from college rugby in America and then play in the World Cup.

“He’s been absolutely outstanding for us, it’s a credit to him.

“People spoke about Jonny Wilkinson being the best defending number 10. I never played with Jonny Wilkinson, but AJ punches well above his weight; he’s absolutely outstanding on D.

“He’s a good lad and we’ll be sad to see him go. Unfortunately rules are rules and we can only have one out-half that’s not Irish qualified, which is unfortunate because the way he’s playing I’d say Ireland would have been looking at him.

“The other side of it is he probably never would have been here if he hadn’t played for America, so it’s a catch-22.”

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Murray Kinsella

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