Diarmuid McMahon tells us all about playing with All Black legend Richie McCaw

The New Zealand captain defused tension at his first training session by dropping the first ball passed to him.

Daiarmuid McMahon with Richie McCaw.
Daiarmuid McMahon with Richie McCaw.
Image: - Christchurch FC

“I GOT ABUSE all night and was called ‘superstar’,” Diamuid McMahon tells from his home in Christchurch. “I couldn’t drop the ball or else they’d rip into me again.”

The Christchurch FC back, a former teammate of Conor Murray at St Munchin’s College, got the chance of a rugby-playing lifetime at the weekend when he lined up alongside All Blacks captain Richie McCaw. The legendary flanker was playing for his club side after taking a seven-month break away from the game.

With McCaw putting in a man-of-the-match display, Christchurch beat University celebrated with the DCL Shield in their dressing room afterward. “The shield is a big deal and if we win this weekend, against Belfast, we’ll get to place our names on it and write ourselves into the club’s history.”

McCaw will not be there to help them claim the shield. He is set to feature in his first Super Rugby game of the season with the Crusaders. For coach Todd Blackadder, his return could not have been timed better as the Kiwis take on the Queensland Reds — with Will Genia and James Horwill in the line-up — this weekend.

McMahon was delighted with the experience of playing with an All Black that has won the IRB Player of the Year three times and captained his country to World Cup success in 2011.

McMahon, a former St Senan’s, St Munchin’s and Garryowen player, explains that McCaw did not simply show up on the day and waltz into the starting line-up. He told

We had heard something on the grapevine about it and, with Richie looking for match practice, he was always going to start. He came down to our training session the Thursday before, watched us on Saturday and then trained with us on the Tuesday and Thursday. He’s a player that puts his body on the line but won’t say anything until he has to. He came in and didn’t call any shots; he was content to take a back seat.

Everybody was nervous when he first showed up for training that no-one wanted to go up and disturb or pester him. It wasn’t until training began and he dropped the first pass that came his way that he was accepted as one of the boys and the slagging started.”

McCaw was given a fearsome challenge at the breakdown by the University openside flanker but his international experience, not to mention tungsten steel legs, gave him the edge. Christchurch beat University 22-5 in front of a crowd of more than 2,000. Starting at fullback, McMahon had some less than hectic moments to take in the action going on around the jam-packed sidelines.

“Through a gap in the fence, on the next field, I spotted three young lads running around with hurleys and a slíothar,” he revealed. “You’re never too far from home.”

McCaw was happy to pose for pictures with fans and teammates, and indulge in some post-match beers in the dressing room and clubhouse. The light-hearted banter did not stop once McCaw returned to the Crusaders. McMahon revealed, “The coach said in training that Richie made four unforced errors in the first half and if it had been anyone else they would have ripped him off.”

Playing rugby as a break from rugby

The appearance of Super Rugby and international rugby stars in Metro [one step down from the domestic ITM Cup] competitions is commonplace in New Zealand. McMahon played alongside Hosea Gear [Highlanders] and Steve Alfred and Joel Everson, who have played with the Crusaders previously.

Sonny Bill Williams played for Belfast in 2010 and Dan Carter is expected to line out for his local side, Southbridge, when he takes his sabbatical in 2014.

“One of the first things I was told when I first got here was ‘be humble’. The attitude they have here is that it doesn’t matter how good you are, there may always be someone better. There is such a pool of players over here that if one player gets injured, two are there and ready to take his place.

“The players that have made it in Super Rugby and as All Blacks love getting back to their old clubs and giving back too. In a way, they enjoy the simplicity of playing for their club sides as it is a break from the pressures of professional rugby.”

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Conor Murray waves the Irish flag after the Lions defeated Australia to clinch the Test Series 2-1. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

McMahon, who works as a business and accountancy teacher at Rangiora High School, got along to Rugby League Park last summer to watch Ireland go agonisingly close to the first ever Test match win over the All Blacks. On a bitterly cold Canterbury night, McMahon recalls Ireland play the better rugby yet lose at the death to Carter’s ‘ugly drop goal’.

The Clare native and a few of his friends had planned to catch up with Conor Murray, who scored his first international try that night, after the game. “He was broken after that result,” said McMahon, “so we left off for the night. They had built themselves up so much and were devastated with the result.”

He added, “Conor’s rise in the last two to three years has been out of this world. It was great to see him do so well on the Lions Tour and he definitely deserved to start at least one of the Tests.”

McMahon’s wish is to get back to Ireland, sooner rather than later, and see his old teammate in action against another former teammate. Richie McCaw and the All Blacks take on Joe Schmidt’s Ireland at Lansdowne Road in November.

Divided loyalties do not exist for McMahon. Murray trumps McCaw any day.

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Patrick McCarry

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