‘I’m still lost for words that I am hanging out with some of the best players in the world’

When Mack Hansen went for a chat with a friend six months ago he could not have guessed that he’d end up in Ireland’s Six Nations squad.

Mack Hansen - Irish rugby's newest star.
Mack Hansen - Irish rugby's newest star.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

THIS AUSTRALIAN WALKED into a bar. There’s no naff punchline at the end of this story although there may soon be an Irish cap.

Mack Hansen was on his way to see his mate in a Canberra pub. His pal, Jackson, just so happened to have a dad (Andy Friend) who coached a professional rugby team on the other side of the world. His dad needed a winger. Before you knew it, Hansen was signing on the dotted line, sticking the luggage in the hold and taking a flight to God knows where.

The journey is only beginning. Even if Hansen has been here six months, scorching defences with his trickery and speed, there is still so much to come. He’s 23, leading try scorer in the URC with six in seven games for Connacht and called into the Ireland squad courtesy of his Irish roots – mum Diana being a Cork woman.

“It would just be surreal to hit the peak of rugby, where I honestly didn’t really think I would ever get to,” Hansen said of the possibility that his name may soon be prefixed with the words, Irish international.

“I have been asked, ‘would it feel different putting on the Wallaby shirt?’ And I don’t think it would make any difference. This has been something I have always wanted to do. Just because I didn’t really grow up here in Ireland, doesn’t mean I don’t find this place home.

“I have taken to this place as much as I can and they have given back to me the same. It would be such a special moment.”

mack-hansen-celebrates-scoring-their-first-try Hansen celebrates his try against Leinster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There have been special moments before now. He was good enough to play for Australia at Under 20 level, good enough to have played 14 times for the Brumbies, and by the time he was chatting to Connacht coach Andy Friend’s son, he was considering offers from clubs in a couple of different countries.

Something about Ireland proved luring, though, and it wasn’t just the fact he was pals with Friend’s son. There was the motherland aspect. “I wanted to come here to chance my hand,” he says, “to have a chance to play international football. It was always something that was in the back of my head.”

More to the point it was always something in the forefront of Diana O’Shea from Castlemartyr’s head.

“I think coming over here was a huge point of it. I had offers to go other places but I knew I wanted to come here to chance my hand and have an opportunity to play international football. But I didn’t think it would happen so quickly.”

His timing was good. Simon Zebo is still a bit off resembling the Simon Zebo of 2020; Jacob Stockdale and James Lowe are injured; Keith Earls is getting on a bit; Ethan McIlroy is not quite ready yet.

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But Hansen is. If you haven’t seen his try against the Bulls from earlier this season then check it out. He was even more lethal against Ulster at the Aviva in October – the best footwork the stadium has seen since Lady Gaga’s show in 2012.

mack-hansen-scores-a-try Hansen's footwork was the best the Aviva has seen since Lady Gaga. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I’m definitely ahead of schedule,” Hansen said, “in fact I’m still lost for words sometimes when I’m realising I’m here and being able to hang out with some of the best players in the world. It’s just unreal.

“But I’d be lying if I said just being here would be great. You want more. You want to put your name forward and hopefully get that cap. I’ll definitely be striving to get that.

“Being here has been unreal. The rugby Connacht play – fast and exciting – just suits me perfectly. If anything it was the type of thing I needed, being able to be myself and come over here and just play my rugby.”
Back in Canberra, mum Diana is ‘absolutely stoked’ by the news of her son’s call up. “She probably doesn’t want to admit it, but I think she has taken to footie a little bit more knowing that I am playing for her home country.

“Same with my dad, he doesn’t mind where I am playing as long as I am enjoying myself, which I really am over here.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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