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Family first and driving Connacht's McAllister

Connacht’s enforced break from matches won’t lead to a loss of focus for the prop.

Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

IF YOU’RE JUST working off the stats sheet, then you might expect to see and hear signs of frustration when Paddy McAllister eases his frame in front of the camera.

As a squad, Connacht, have been starved of match minutes in recent weeks after two straight postponements. McAllister’s profile lists just two appearances since March. And before that, untimely injury limited his involvement in the first half of his first season back in Ireland.

There is no sign of the 31-year-old grinding his teeth, no fleck of injustice. Gratitude is the resounding feeling emanating from McAllister.

After all, there are far more important things than rugby matches.

McAllister is the proud father of three: four-year-old Max, Lucy is three and the newest addition Eliana arrived, to enormous relief, in October.

“We’re a family of faith and we had a lot of prayer behind us from friends and family. Eliana means ‘God has answered me,’” says McAllister.

After 20-odd minutes of bright and light rugby chat, his eyes have turned serious at the mention of the new baby. You see, while the rest of Irish rugby was feeling its way back at the tail end of summer, idle chat of empty stadia and penalty counts could not have been further from McAllister’s concerns.

“My wife had a stroke at 35 weeks pregnant.

“Things were pretty tough for about two days. Thankfully my wife and baby both made it through.”

Placing relative importance on rugby is no new trait for McAllister. He counted Nevin Spence as his best friend before the centre’s tragic death along with his father and brother in an accident on the family farm in 2012. In an interview with Pundit Arena last year he recalls Deborah’s strong influence in getting him back on track when he might have spiralled completely.They went to Aurillac together in 2013 and on to Gloucester before Andy Friend signed him up for a return to Ireland.

There was a time when McAllister allowed the travails of rugby take greater influence on his state of mind. He recounts a tale from his time in the Ulster academy, when a particularly pointed review left him in a slump and genuinely feeling his time in rugby was finished at 21.

On that occasion, Neil Doak pointed him to the most important thing in the game, the next task. It’s a lesson McAllister is now passing on within a young Connacht squad. And it’s a valuable ability in this most irregular of seasons when training sessions, matches even seasons can be put on hiatus as quick as test can be returned positive.

Connacht have gone three weeks without a game after their meetings with Benetton and the Dragons were postponed, but they have worked to sustain momentum through high-tempo training leading up to today’s home fixture against the Scarlets (kick-off 19.35).

“As soon as we found out the Treviso game was off, the next training session was a switch to the Dragons. You can’t have any hangovers in professional sport, it’s the team that recovers fastest and moves on is the team that’s going to accomplish things.

In the rugby environment, even on the pitch if you drop a ball, you’re drilled: ‘next job’. You can’t compound mistake on mistake. That helps in life as well and it’s helped me in the last few months in my personal life.”

The short-term memory that is such a strength of sportsmen, is not something that comes easily for all of them. Some young pros have it by the time they leave school and step straight into a professional environment. It has been a slow burn for McAllister, the value of experience shining through over time.

“This is my 11th season as a professional. Some people are lucky and can just, as soon as they become a professional rugby player, things like that come easy. I do feel for the majority it takes time and experience of going through turmoil to adjust quickly to things like that.”

Maintaining focus and concentration on the day job now is easy. Because his purpose is clear.

I’ve a family and small kids to think about. They’re very much my drive to accomplish things in my career.

“It’s very easy for me to just quickly switch ‘what am I doing it for?’  Right, that’s my focus. 

“It’s taken me probably the last three years to really get a handle on not letting external things affect my personal and mental state too much.

“Our partners and wives are unbelievable. Because the worst thing (about) rugby players is we take things from a performance or what a coach said and we bring it home and we’re miserable.

“We don’t want to talk and we snap. Our wives have to go through that. It takes time to adjust and say to yourself ‘there’s a separation there. Get over it’. ‘It’s not the end of the world’, move on to the next thing.”

When each and every ‘next job’ is done in rugby each day, McAllister will return with grateful eyes to his home, where Eliana will ensure to keep the tasks coming.

“She’s a great baby.

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“We’re really thankful and lucky that she’s here safe and sound and my wife Deborah’s here as well and we’re enjoying being a family of five.”

Connacht

15. John Porch
14. Alex Wootton
13. Sammy Arnold
12. Tom Daly
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. Colm Reilly

1. Paddy McAllister
2. Shane Delahunt
3. Conor Kenny
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Gavin Thornbury
6. Paul Boyle
7. Jarrad Butler (Capt)
8. Abraham Papali’i

Replacements

16. Jonny Murphy
17. Denis Buckley
18. Jack Aungier
19. Eoghan Masterson
20. Conor Oliver
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Tom Farrell
23. Peter Sullivan

Scarlets

15 Johnny McNicholl;
14 Ryan Conbeer,
13 Steff Hughes (capt),
12 Paul Asquith,
11 Steff Evans;
10 Dan Jones,
9 Dane Blacker;

1 Rob Evans,
2 Taylor Davies,
3 Javan Sebastian,
4 Sam Lousi,
5 Morgan Jones,
6 Ed Kennedy,
7 Jac Morgan,
8 Sione Kalamafoni.

Replacements:

16 Daf Hughes
17 Phil Price
18 Werner Kruger
19 Danny Drake
20 Uzair Cassiem
21 Will Homer
22 Angus O’Brien
23 Tyler Morgan.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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