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Dublin: 4 °C Saturday 14 December, 2019

'It's five years since I played in Croke Park, both are incredible'

The former inter-county hurler gave a glimpse of his international quality on his Test debut against South Africa.

A WINNING START to Ireland’s season, but for Darren Sweetnam Saturday night in the Aviva marked the end of remarkable journey from the top of one sport to another wholly different one.

The Corkman made his international debut as a 74th minute replacement in Ireland’s emphatic win over the Springboks, and he wasted little time in making his mark as he showed safe hands to collect a cross-field kick and raid up the right to lay the platform for Jacob Stockdale’s late try.

This, five years after scoring a point as a 19-year-old in an All-Ireland hurling semi-final, closed a circuitous route from Croke Park to Lansdowne Road.

“Oh, I was getting goosebumps running out there, with the fireworks and smoke,” Sweetnam said post-match in the Aviva.

A general view of fireworks as the teams run out onto the pitch Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I’ve never experienced anything like that, it was incredible, I loved every bit of it.

“It’s five years now since I played in Croke Park, but both are incredible.”

The rise from small ball to oval ball international hasn’t been altogether straightforward for Sweetnam. In April, he admitted he had experienced some doubts about the wisdom of leaving hurling behind when left sitting on the Munster A bench watching a B&I Cup match in 2015.

However, the effort he put into improving his game didn’t wane then and certainly won’t now.

“Jeez I never thought I’d get a cap, I was so delighted. But I won’t get ahead of myself, I’ll just keep working hard now and keep working with the lads around me and keep going.

Darren Sweetnam Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Growing up in Ireland all you ever want to do is get into a green jersey, so I was absolutely thrilled. And there was a fair old roar so I enjoyed that as well.”

Sweetnam’s inclusion in Schmidt’s first matchday squad of the season came, in large part, to the misfortune of Keith Earls who picked up a hamstring injury during Tuesday’s training session. Even after his own November campaign was scuppered though, the experienced wing kept himself available as a sounding board to help the versatile  Dunmanway talent settle to the task ahead.

“The Munster lads have been great, Johnny Sexton too. Keith Earls has been so good to me, he just goes through every move with me. Even when he got injured he just came and sat with me and made sure I was okay with everything.

“Andrew Conway as well has just been telling me how it feels.

“It’s a great bunch of lads around me.”

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‘It has been a hell of a journey and a hell of a night. I’m lost for words’

Conway and Stockdale on the mark as Ireland cruise to win over sorry Springboks

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Sean Farrell

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