James Crombie/INPHO

'I feel like there’s a huge opportunity for me to push on' - Connacht's Tierney-Martin

The 22-year-old recently returned to action again after a lengthy injury setback.

HE HAS endured his fair share of frustration along the way, but Connacht hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin is ultimately finding reasons to be cheerful as his first season as a professional rugby player draws to a close.

After making his debut against Scarlets in March of last year while still a member of the western province’s academy, the Galway native was hoping to make a big splash in 2021/22. The presence of Dave Heffernan, Shane Delahunt and Jonny Murphy kept him out of the early reckoning, however, and a torn hamstring sustained last December halted his progression even further.

Yet he finally picked up his second Connacht cap in a United Rugby Championship victory over Benetton on 2 April and just six days later he was making his European debut in a Round of 16 first leg encounter with Leinster in the Champions Cup. He also featured against Emirates Lions and Cell C Sharks on a recent mini-tour to South Africa, and is hopeful of clocking a fifth appearance of the campaign when Zebre Parma visit the Sportsground on Saturday in the final round of the URC.

“I’ve got some great hookers ahead of me the whole way through, but I’ve enjoyed my journey. Just taking those learnings coming through and learning from the likes of Del, Heff and Jonny Murphy that were ahead of me. Them boys, they always kept themselves right and they always performed really well,” Tierney-Martin acknowledged.

“I was finding it hard to get an opportunity to show my skills and show what I can do because of how well the boys were doing. Then obviously I tore my hamstring. That was a big one for me, I was quite upset about that. I worked through that with the boys in the medical staff. They were excellent, they pushed me through that.

“In hindsight, I look back at it as something that I nearly needed for my physical development. I feel so much better now. I’ve obviously gotten my opportunity at the end of this year with the few games that I’ve had. There have been ups and downs, and obviously all the results haven’t gone our way, but the exposure for me has been incredible.”

The fact that Delahunt has been sidelined with a hamstring injury of his own for the past couple of months has certainly played into Tierney-Martin’s hands. The Corinthians club man can also expect to get additional opportunities in 2022/23 due to the impending departure of Murphy and despite the short lead-in to next season, he is confident of remaining in the good books of head coach Andy Friend.

“We don’t have that long of a pre-season. I think the URC is starting quite early next year. It’s all about — I know it’s a cliche — doing the work when no one is looking. You have to take your time off too, but I had four months there when I was working in the darkness almost. 7 o’clock in the morning with Barry O’Brien [Connacht’s strength and conditioning coach].

“It’s just about getting back into that habit. I joked with Barry during the week about nearly checking myself back into RTP [return to play] and getting back into the dungeons for the next few weeks! I feel like there’s a huge opportunity for me to push on.”

Still just 22 years of age, Tierney-Martin came into the Connacht senior squad with a strong underage pedigree behind him. When the Ireland U20s won a Six Nations Grand Slam under Noel McNamara’s watch in 2019, he was the tournament’s top try-scorer with an impressive tally of four spread across five successful outings for his side.

Whereas he is still working his way up the professional ladder, a number of his Irish colleagues from that campaign — most notably Craig Casey, Ryan Baird, Ben Healy and Harry Byrne — are establishing themselves as squad regulars at their respective provinces.

Tierney-Martin admits he has felt inspired by seeing so many from the class of 2019 pushing forward in their careers and it is also making him reconsider what he may need to do in order to develop his own game.

“I feel like it’s a bit of a double-edged sword as well. Them guys are going on doing what I’d love to be doing and I’m kind of thinking ‘what am I doing wrong?’ Or maybe it’s just that things haven’t fallen like they have for the other lads. I’m not saying that the others haven’t worked as hard,” Tierney-Martin added.

“There’s some really, really talented guys that have gone on to do great things further on. It definitely is an inspiration. It makes you think what more you could be doing, if you were there or thereabouts with those guys at the time. What are they doing differently?”

In addition to the aforementioned Delahunt, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen, Caolin Blade and Paul Boyle will also be marked absent for the Zebre game this weekend. However, this quartet’s injuries are relatively minor and aren’t expected to rule them out of contention for Ireland’s summer tour of New Zealand.

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