The former Connacht out-half starts for the Eagles on Saturday. Billy Stickland/INPHO
new york state of mind

'Obviously when I got this opportunity I wondered would I ever play against Ireland'

AJ MacGinty will come up against a few familiar faces in New Jersey tomorrow night as he continues his international adventure with USA.

THE PIG ‘N’ WHISTLE is an Irish pub in the middle of Manhattan but they will raise a glass or two tomorrow night if their former bartender plays a part in the USA Eagles winning against Ireland for the first time in nine meetings.

The pub, nestled in the middle of the fashion district on 36th Street, was AJ MacGinty’s first job when he arrived in New York a few years ago armed with an accountancy degree and little notion of where to head with his rugby career or his employment opportunities.

Five months behind the bar could have extended to a few years but a nudge from his dad Alan — the principal of Blackrock College — pointed him in the direction of a Masters in the US and one of the most unorthodox passages into international rugby.

The 27-year-old Dublin native and former Connacht out-half knows there is a real danger he could end up singing the wrong national anthem when the USA take on Ireland at the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey tomorrow evening.

MacGinty is now a key figure for the United States as they continue to develop and he will be expected to play a pivotal role at out-half as the Eagles bid for a first-ever win against Joe Schmidt’s side.

His pathway to international rugby was unusual, to say the least, going swiftly through the grades after moving to study in America having never been capped at any level by Ireland.

Bundee Aki and AJ MacGinty celebrate Celebrating the famous Pro12 win with Bundee Aki. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The former Blackrock College student saw many of his team-mates progress to professional and international rugby, but he did it a different way; he qualified for the USA through the three-year residency rule.

Playing in the 2015 World Cup was a dream come through and then just a few weeks later he was making his first start for Connacht in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, taking over the number 10 shirt and steering Pat Lam’s men to that unforgettable Pro12 final win over Leinster.

“It was just such a good year. Everything about that place just brings back such good memories,” recalled the 27-year old, who last summer left for Premiership side Sale Sharks.

“Everything about it was class. Even after that, after that season when we won and we got back to Galway. We had a big night out together but then I was gone on the Monday afternoon, I had to get into camp up here.

“I didn’t even get proper goodbyes. I just briefly said goodbye to the lads. I’ve only seen a few of them after that. It will good to see them again, playing on opposite sides.”

MacGinty has now chalked up ten appearances for the USA and will hope to lead the way in their two crunch World Cup qualifying games against Canada in the coming weeks.

“Obviously when I got this opportunity, got capped by America, I wondered would I ever play Ireland. Before the last World Cup I was wondering could it happen at the World Cup. I’m almost glad that didn’t happen. This is a good time to be playing Ireland but this is a good time to be playing for America.”

And the anthems? Any danger of singing the Irish one?

“It would be weird if I started singing it!”

AJ MacGinty returns to the dressing room after the game James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Former All Black John Mitchell is leaving as Eagles head coach to take charge of the Blue Bulls in South Africa and MacGinty said they want to send him off on a high.

“John Mitchell is going to be a big loss but he has set benchmarks for us to aim towards. The stuff we are doing now is the elite of the elite, to my knowledge. It is all the work being done by New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams and they are dominating the game down there.

“Our training and everything we do is based on what they are doing. We are looking to play a fast-paced game. This is our first game so it is hard to say but normally when it’s Ireland against America at the 50, 60 minute mark the Americans drop off and Ireland take over and finish out the game. I don’t think you will see that this time around.”

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