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Dublin: 11°C Saturday 17 April 2021

'Even though we're from New Zealand, we had a strong connection to Ireland'

Auckland native Dominic Robertson-McCoy is in his fourth season with Connacht.

DOMINIC ROBERTSON-MCCOY reckons he has around 20 tattoos at this stage.

The Connacht prop can be impulsive when it comes to body art, although the random ones he doesn’t think about for too long often end up being his favourites. Among this collection of “all sorts” are a gorilla, a bird, and an axe.

One of his more recent additions is the Inisfail that Robertson-McCoy got tattooed onto his wrist last year. He had it done to match the one his mother, Moyeen, has on her wrist.

Inisfail is said to have been the seventh name given to Ireland, coming from the Stone of Destiny – Lia Fáil – on the Hill of Tara, where legend has it that the coronations of the High Kings of Ireland took place. 

dominic-robertson-mccoy Robertson-McCoy joined Connacht in 2016.

Ireland certainly feels like the island of destiny for New Zealand native Robertson-McCoy, now in his fourth season with Connacht having joined when Pat Lam was in charge in 2016.

Robertson-McCoy arrived Irish-qualified thanks to his grandfather, Dominic McCoy, being a native of Armagh. McCoy moved to New Zealand, where his daughter Moyeen was born, and he infused the young Dominic with a sense of Irishness as he grew up.

“Even though we’re from New Zealand, we always had a strong connection to Ireland,” says 26-year-old Robertson-McCoy. “Our grandfather always had that connection and as a kid, I’d be supporting Ireland as well as New Zealand.”

Moyeen had moved to Ireland in her 20s to live and work in Dundalk, and later took her son on a visit back there when he was 14. It Dominic’s first trip overseas, with the main objective being to bury his Scotland-born grandmother’s ashes in her hometown of Glasgow before they trekked on to Ireland.

Robertson-McCoy remembers seeing Trinity College in Dublin on that “eye-opening” trip to the other side of the world. He didn’t know he’d be calling Ireland home a decade later.

Growing up in New Zealand, Robertson-McCoy lived with his mother and sister in the Grey Lynn area close to downtown Auckland, He has other half-siblings through his father, who lives in a different part of New Zealand and whose parents are Samoan.

“I’m very proud of all my heritage,” says Robertson-McCoy. “It was pretty funny hearing the accents of all my grandparents when they were talking together. A good mixture. They all get along really well but it might be pretty hard to follow the conversation from the outside looking in.”

He first played rugby with the Marist Brothers Old Boys RFC, Lam’s home club, before going to school at Sacred Heart College, which has produced plenty of All Blacks including Sean Fitzpatrick.

dominic-robertson-mccoy Robertson-McCoy played in all 20 of Connacht's games this season. Source: Jean Francois Basset/INPHO

“Everyone was so mad about rugby,” recalls Robertson-McCoy. “All of my friends played, we had around 20 rugby teams in the school. Everything was rugby-related. If we weren’t training after school, we would be playing touch rugby together. You grow up with it.”

Robertson-McCoy started to make Auckland representative teams, coming across Lam in person for the first time when he was playing for the Blues U18s.

The prop had been lucky to meet Mike Casey – a scrum expert who coached Auckland and the Blues alongside Lam – when he was just 15, with Casey instantly recognising that Robertson-McCoy should switch from loosehead to tighthead.

As part of his Front Row Factory, Casey went on to mentor the young prop and represented him as an agent.

“Once a week, we’d go to Mike’s house and we’d set down scrums against each other. You’d have eight on eight but it would be all props and hookers scrummaging against each other. I learned a lot from him and I’ve got a lot of time for that man.”

Robertson-McCoy was part of the Auckland academy for two years while playing club rugby with Auckland Marist, but he couldn’t break through with his native province and the Blues. 

Eager to make his way into pro rugby, he moved a few hours north to link up with Hikurangi Rugby Club and play for Northland in the ITM Cup, while also continuing his work as a builder’s apprentice.

“It was very different. Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand and I’m from right in the middle of the city. I went up and played for Hikurangi, which is a real small country town.

“It took some getting used to but I enjoyed it and lived up there for a couple of years.”

dominic-robertson-mccoy-leaves-the-field-after-the-game Robertson has signed on with Connacht until 2022. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Casey had kept in touch with Lam over at Ireland and when the Connacht boss said he was looking for a prop, particularly an Irish-qualified one, it was a lightbulb moment. Things moved quickly for Robertson-McCoy from there.

“I was very keen to come over,” he says. “I thought about it for maybe 10 minutes, I knew I wanted to do it. I told my mum and sister and they told me to go for it. The rest is history.”

Robertson-McCoy played 10 times for Connacht in his first season but admits Northern Hemisphere rugby took some getting used to.

“When I first came, I wasn’t really used to being in a proper professional set-up. I had played ITM Cup back home but you’re only in full-time for three months of the year and the rest of the time, you’re working.

“It was a big change coming into a set-up like this. The amount of training that the other guys had done was a lot more than mine so I was a huge step behind in terms of strength and conditioning.

“When I came here, I was pretty weak compared to the other props. I had some distance to gain, but with the coaches and S&C we have, they do an unreal job.”

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An injury-stunted 2017/18 campaign followed but he played 17 times last season and had featured in all 20 of Connacht’s fixtures in the current 2019/20 campaign – starting seven times – until it was put on hold.

While Robertson-McCoy has shown great progress as a player, there was one big blot to his name with the red card and subsequent six-week ban he received for stamping on Josh van der Flier’s head in a clash with Leinster in September 2018.

peter-mccabe-and-dominic-robertson-mccoy Robertson-McCoy with fellow prop, Peter McCabe. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Obviously not one of my finer moments but I take it as a big learning experience,” reflects Roberson-McCoy. “It was a bit of a brain explosion.

“I’m just relieved that Josh didn’t get hurt but I tried to learn from it and I’ll make sure nothing like that happens ever again – control the temper and be better, really.” 

Looking forward, Robertson-McCoy says it’s “a relief” that he got his new two-year contract through until 2022 sorted in February and he feels for rugby players worried for their futures right now.

Currently in lockdown with team-mate Ultan Dillane and Dillane’s brother, Cian, in Galway, Robertson-McCoy has ideal training partners for their home gym, although he jokes that he’s struggling with the road runs.

There’s been “probably too much Playstation” to while away the hours – John Porch is the best at Fortnite, apparently – but at least that keeps team-mates in touch: “It’s more social than what you think, we all chat away while we’re playing.”

Among the disappointments of lockdown for Robertson-McCoy is that his mother and sister had to cancel their planned month-long visit to Ireland, which was supposed to start next week.

Such is life, he says, and there are more important things going on in the world.

He and his mother have their tattoos to connect them on opposite sides of the world for now.

“My mum is very good to have around, she’s always worrying about me – probably too much, but she’s a mum so you’ve got to let her!

“They’re still keen to make it over when they can. My mum also wants to go to a language school in France as well, so we’re looking forward to next year hopefully.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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