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'I have a brother and I don't want him getting the farm either!'

Connacht hooker Shane Delahunt is still balancing farming and professional rugby.

WHILE SOME PROFESSIONAL rugby players head home after a long day of training to fire up a game of Fortnite on the PS4, Connacht hooker Shane Delahunt jumps into the car and points it in the direction of the family farm near Birr.

The drive takes more than an hour from Galway and after the spin, Delahunt’s day is far from finished.

Shane Delahunt Delahunt at Connacht's visit to Ballina RFC earlier this month. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Working alongside his father, William, the 24-year-old gets stuck into milking the cows and whatever else needs to be done.

Now that his rugby career has taken off, particularly after an excellent campaign for Connacht last season, Delahunt could be forgiven for packing in the farming but he welcomes it after his days in the intense environment of pro rugby.

“It’s good to get out of that bubble,” says the affable Delahunt, who is very popular within the Connacht squad. “It’s not too far away from Galway so it’s good to get out of the bubble, it’s a release and it’s a bit of craic as well.

“I go back in the evening. I’d be doing general stuff, milking cows. It’s different every day and that’s what I like about it – it’s a good balance.

“We’re milking 200, nearly 300 cows – myself and my auld man – and we have one labour unit and it’s full-time job. If I wasn’t playing rugby, I’d be at home doing it anyway.”

Leinster and Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien has said before that he had to ease off his own efforts on the family farm in Tullow during his career, prioritising recovery and rest after training days.

However, while Connacht’s coaches have expressed their reservations to Delahunt at times, he is keen to keep working at home – aware that injury can end a rugby career in a flash.

“Sometimes the coaches would be wondering why you’d be doing it but I need to keep my head in. I have a brother and I don’t want him getting the farm either!

“It’s what I’ll do when I finish playing rugby. You never know with rugby, it could be all over in the morning so you never know.”

SBD Delahunt throws a superb try-assisting offload against Leinster.

Clearly, hard work is ingrained in the Delahunt family. Shane’s mother, Ethel, runs a motor shop called Killeen Bearings & Motor Factors in Birr and the young hooker has had to show his grit and determination during his career so far.

He first played rugby at the age of six with Birr Rugby Club, while he also excelled in hurling and went on to play for Offaly at underage levels – Delahunt explains that though he lives in Tipperary, his GAA club is just over the border in Offaly.

His real grá was for rugby and he headed to Kilkenny College for secondary school to “play full-time” and jokes that he quickly became “too big and awkward” for hurling.

Delahunt showed his ability at Kilkenny College – which has also produced the likes of Connacht players Robin Copeland and Craig Ronaldson, Ealing fullback Peter Lydon, RUNY back row Ross Deacon, Ireland 7s flyer Foster Horan, and Ireland Women international Nichola Fryday – and captained the school to its first-ever Leinster Senior League title in 2011.

A prop in his school days, Delahunt caught the attention of the Leinster underage system, playing for Leinster Schools and captaining the Leinster U19s, as well as winning caps for Ireland Schools and the Ireland U19s.

Coming towards the end of his time in school and with Leinster’s propping stocks at loosehead and tighthead looking very strong, as well as coaches telling him he was perhaps too small for a professional prop, Delahunt made the switch to hooker and admits “it took a few years to grasp it and get through.”

Delahunt was good enough to play for the Ireland U20s and he was part of Leinster’s sub-academy for two years, while he studied Dairy Business at UCD and played with Lansdowne, but despite his hard work, Leinster opted to let him go.

Fortunately, he had worked with and impressed then Connacht academy coach Nigel Carolan – now senior attack coach – at Ireland U19 level and got the chance to link up with the academy in Galway on an initial three-month trial.

Shane Delahunt lifts the cup Delahunt lifts the 2011 Leinster Senior League trophy for Kilkenny College. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“When Leinster let me go, he was the only one brave enough to take a chance and I will be forever grateful for it,” says Delahunt of Carolan.

Delahunt came off the bench twice for Connacht’s senior side during his trial and earned a permanent academy deal in October 2014, making his first start under Pat Lam in the same week he signed his deal.

There were eight appearances in total in Delahunt’s debut season – including a Challenge Cup debut – and the 2015/16 saw a further seven as he secured a senior contract in the summer of 2016, going on to win his first Champions Cup caps the following campaign.

Last season was Delahunt’s best yet and it ended in stunning fashion with a superb performance in Connacht’s 47-10 win over Leinster at the Sportsground, when his hard work in the tight was matched with some beautiful offloading.

“I do practice it but I think it might be a fluke more than anything,” says Delahunt with a modest laugh. “We try to do these things but it takes a bit of luck!”

That big win for Connacht back in April didn’t mask what was a poor campaign overall and Delahunt acknowledges that they need to be more consistent under new head coach Andy Friend in the upcoming season.

“We were good in big games and poor in some smaller sort of games,” says Delahunt.”It’s hard to know really, maybe it’s a mental thing but that comes with age. Our squad profile age is low so we know we need to improve that.”

Delahunt, whose excellent form last season brought him onto Joe Schmidt’s radar, is keen to get as many games as he can in 2018/19, although he’s certain that there will be a fierce battle for the number two shirt.

Shane Delahunt and Tom McCartney Delahunt says Tom McCartney is a 'good mentor'. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The experienced Tom McCartney is a leader within the group, Ireland-capped Dave Heffernan is looking to bounce back from a quiet season and ex-Ulster hooker Johnny Murphy has joined from Rotherham.

“The competition here at hooker is unbelievable,” says Delahunt. “Tom has been around the block and he knows the story, but he’s a good mentor as well. So is Heff, but I guess we’re all different in our own way. It’s good to have different skills.

“Johnny has come in and he’s a good player as well, he’s been training hard and we’re very impressed with him. Heff is an unbelievable athlete and his discipline is unbelievable. Tom has seen things and he will tell you what he’s seen. He’s patient, he’s calm and he knows the story.”

Nonetheless, Delahunt’s future is bright as he looks to continue his rise in the coming months. His potential speaks of big things to come and though he has set clear aims for himself, he’s keen to do his talking on the pitch as much as possible.

“I do have targets but I’ll keep them to myself.”

- This article was updated at 11.56am to correct ‘milking the cattle’ to ‘milking the cows’.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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