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'Johann was recognising talent in me even if I didn't feel I was putting my hand up'

Munster man Shane Daly has impressed in the back three this season.
Apr 15th 2020, 7:30 PM 15,154 4

MANY PROFESSIONAL RUGBY players have had to adapt to small home gyms during the the lockdown, but Munster man Shane Daly is blessed with his new set-up.

There’s a pitch for running sessions within 2km of his family home in Cork and Daly has also organised a makeshift gym for himself in the spacious surrounds of a nearby church belonging to Griffith College.

Daly’s uncle works for the college and with the church lying unused, he arranged for the Munster flyer to borrow the space, which he has partly filled with a barbell, various plates, a bike, and other bits of training equipment.

Church Daly's church gym.

It’s a serene setting but it allows 23-year-old Daly to keep working hard in his day job, while he’s also been busy learning guitar and upholding his status as one of Munster’s leading TikTokers along with Calvin Nash – although this all started before the lockdown.

“We would have been on about it around training but hadn’t posted any videos,” explains Daly. “So Stephen Larkham asked me and Calvin to learn these three dances and we didn’t really know what was going on.

“We came into the training centre the next day and we had to do the dances in front of everyone. The next thing, Stephen Larkham’s two daughters walk in and they did a dance-off against us in front of the whole squad.

“We obviously got abused by everyone. But we said we’d keep going.”

Daly is convinced that older members of Munster’s squad are lurking behind faceless profiles on TikTok as they “somehow see everything but claim not to be on there.”

Like the rest of his team-mates, Daly understands that there are more important things at play in the world right now but he could be forgiven for feeling a hint of frustration at rugby being put on hold, pausing his own rise. 

Having had a “mad few years” combining Munster academy training with playing for Ireland 7s and Cork Con, as well as finishing his degree in Finance, this season was the first time Daly had a chance to settle, moving to Limerick full-time and making an impact on the pitch as he moved onto a senior contract.

Daly started 10 times for Munster at fullback and on the wing in the Pro14, as well as getting his Champions Cup debut off the bench away to Racing 92 in Paris. Scoring four tries along the way, the Cork man has underlined his game-changing ability.

shane-daly Daly on the charge for Munster. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Though he was delayed in returning to pre-season last summer due to Ireland 7s involvement, Daly hit the ground running at the start of the campaign with two man-of-the-match awards for Johann van Graan’s side.

“I always knew that once I got onto the pitch, I could show what I can do,” says Daly. “It’s sometimes difficult to put yourself ahead of people in training but if you get games, you can show what you can do differently.”

He would likely have enjoyed a first European start when Munster played the Ospreys at Thomond Park in January, with Keith Earls having picked up an injury in training, only for Daly to get hurt in the same session.

“I got passed the ball and in freak accident really, broke my thumb,” says Daly, who also had a quad injury in February. But on the whole, “I couldn’t complain about the opportunities I got this season.”

While it remains unclear what Daly’s best position is – “I’m not fully sure myself,” he says – Munster evidently see him as a back three player, even if his history as a centre could come in handy at some point.

Interestingly, Daly didn’t fully commit himself to rugby until his last two years of secondary school in Presentation Brothers College, Cork.

Soccer was number one in his youth and he was part of a hugely successful College Corinthians team, playing from U8s up until his late teens and being coached by his father, Bill, for much of that time.

Daly also played Gaelic football with Bishopstown GAA, meaning his skillful touches with the boot for Munster are no accident.

“Rugby was definitely my third-choice back then, I barely even played,” recalls Daly. “I’d say I had 10 training sessions max with Highfield before I went to secondary school. It was all about soccer for me.”

shane-daly-celebrates-after-the-game Daly helped the Ireland U20s into a World Cup final in 2016. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

That said, the family were huge Munster fans, regularly heading to Musgrave Park and on the province’s big European away trips. Pres is well known for its rugby too and Daly’s head was slowly turned. He missed out on the Junior Cup with injury but played in the Bowen Shield in fourth year. Watching his older brother, James – who now plays for Highfield – in action in the Senior Cup further piqued his interest.

“Just how intense it was, the training behind it, I thought it was unreal and that made me want to commit to it. Obviously, at the age of 16, opportunities with soccer are pretty much done. I was looking at rugby and knowing I had some talent even though I had so much to learn.”

Rugby took over as Daly’s talent became clear and he cites Pres and Cork Con coach Paul Barr as a major influence on his development. 

Daly was soon in the Munster pipeline, playing U19s and U20s, then joining the province’s sub-academy after school while also linking up with Con. Helping the Cork club to two AIL trophies since has been an important part of Daly’s growth as a player.

He was a standout player for the Ireland U20s in 2016, excelling at outside centre as Nigel Carolan’s men beat New Zealand and went all the way to the final of that year’s World Rugby U20 Championship.

Along with his U20 team-mates Jimmy O’Brien, Will Connors, Hugo Keenan – all of whom are now excelling for Leinster – Daly was then identified for the Ireland 7s set-up.

He was an integral player throughout 2017/2018 and on into 2018/19, featuring at the World Cup Sevens and playing in World Series tournaments as Ireland rose through the ranks.

“For lots of the lads, their goal is to play on the World Series and that’s unreal. It’s such a great thing to do, travelling the world with your friends and playing rugby.

shane-daly-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-alex-mchenry-and-sean-french Daly joined Cork Con after school and has helped them to two AIL titles. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“For me, it was always about playing for Munster and it was almost a tool for my development as opposed to a career in sevens.

“It’s the focus on the core skills that’s the massive difference. It’s an unbelievable opportunity to develop your skills when you’re not getting the opportunity with your club in 15s.

“Every session, I’d say you’re doing 10 times as many passes, tackles, rucks, you’re just so involved all the time. It gives you massive exposure.”

That period with the Dublin-based 7s was challenging for Daly in many ways. He had joined Munster’s sub-academy when the province was still split between Cork and Limerick, starting his degree in Finance in UCC at the same time.

He couldn’t transfer his degree to UL when Munster decided on one centralised training base in Limerick and he advanced into the full academy, meaning he had to hop between the capital city, the ‘real capital,’ and Limerick.

Daly even managed to complete a six-month placement as a corporate tax consultant with EY in Dublin during that period.

“I was staying in hotels up in Dublin. I was never really back in Cork because the training was in Limerick and Dublin, so I was getting to maybe one day of lectures a week. 

“That was incredibly stressful and took a lot of time management. I was constantly up the walls really, so this is the first season I’ve had the one thing to focus on.”

shane-daly-scores-a-try Daly scores for Munster earlier this season. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Daly – who made his debut against the Cheetahs in 2018 – is a player Munster fans are excited about and head coach van Graan is similarly enthusiastic about Daly’s talent, having previously said that the Cork Con man has the potential to play for Ireland.

“Johann has been huge for me,” says Daly, explaining how the Munster boss’ eye for detail encouraged him as he came in and out of senior training due to his 7s commitments.

“I could do one or two small things well in a session and Johann would talk to me afterwards and say, ‘I saw what you did there.’

“He was recognising talent in me even if I didn’t feel I was putting my hand up all that much. That motivated me, that gave me confidence.”

The addition of the “next level” Larkham as senior coach this season has been welcome, while Daly praises Munster’s back three elders, Keith Earls and Andrew Conway, for their mentoring influence, although he jokes that their presence is “a blessing and a curse!”

Daly is unsure when he’ll be back training and playing with Munster but he’s determined to continue his upward trajectory whenever rugby returns.

“It’s all about trying to break into that starting team. I want to be in the team even when the international lads are back. You’ve got to earn anything above that.

“International rugby is every player’s goal and it’s something I want to do down the line, but I’m just focused on breaking into the Munster team and trying to win trophies.”

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Murray Kinsella

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