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Leinster's academy to Bedford to Galway: Farrell finds his feet in Connacht

The 24-year-old was superb in midfield for the western province last season.

ON NEW YEAR’S eve 2016, Tom Farrell was playing for Bedford Blues against London Irish.

Exactly two weeks later, he kick-started his 2017 by making his debut for Connacht in a Champions Cup game against Zebre at the Sportsground.

Tom Farrell with Joey Carbery Farrell shone for Connacht last season. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It was weird,” says Farrell as he recalls the mid-season switch that resulted in his professional career truly taking off.

“One weekend I was playing in the Championship and then my next game, I was playing in the Champions Cup. It was pretty cool.”

Having been brought in as emergency injury cover halfway through Pat Lam’s final campaign in charge, Farrell has gone from strength to strength in Connacht’s midfield, earning the fans’ player of the year prize at last season’s awards night.

The 24-year-old impressed enough in his injury cover stint under Lam to earn a contract for the 2017/18 campaign but just months later, Connacht tied him down to another new deal, for another two years, after he made a stunning start to last season.

Though some players struggled under Kieran Keane, Farrell was a revelation in midfield. Across 1,515 minutes in the Pro14 and Challenge Cup, the centre made 135 tackles, 278 carries, 18 clean breaks, scored seven tries, ran for 890 metres and beat 79 defenders.

His 62 offloads thrilled Connacht’s fans in what was a breakout campaign for the Dublin man.

“I got on a roll last season, a few games under my belt, that consistency and that was the main thing,” says Farrell.

“In previous years, I struggled to get exposure to high-end rugby. I had played AIL obviously but never really got a look in higher than that.”

Tom Farrell Farrell came through Leinster's academy. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A Castleknock College alumnus who started his rugby days with Coolmine RFC, Farrell played for the Ireland U19s but missed out on the U20 Six Nations through injury.

The Lansdowne FC man was not announced in Leinster’s initial academy intake for the 2013/14 season but Mike Ruddock – also his club coach – called Farrell up for the World Rugby U20 Championship in the summer of 2013.

Farrell impressed as Ireland beat Australia and nearly upset New Zealand, and when he returned home Leinster decided to bring him into their academy set-up.

While Farrell shone for Lansdowne in the AIL, his three years in Leinster’s academy weren’t a great success and he rarely featured for the province’s A team in the British and Irish Cup.

“I wasn’t really getting a look in and, to be honest, my time in the academy really just passed me by,” says Farrell.

“Whatever way the selection went with Leinster, they went for other players, more senior players and players who were considered to be further up the pecking order than me. I came to Year 3 and I was done.”

Farrell spent a short time at London Irish as injury cover at the end of the 2015/16 campaign, playing for their A team, before Bedford Blues came in with a contract offer for the following season.

“I went over with the intention of getting the game time in Bedford to get that recognition and probably hoping to come back,” says Farrell. “Connacht had that injury crisis and it worked out for me.”

Thomas Farrell makes a break Farrell is an Ireland U19 and U20 international. Source: Michel Renac/INPHO

“It was totally different over there, Bedford is probably semi-pro really. Some of the older guys in the squad would have second jobs and be supporting their families, whereas the younger guys just trained.”

Farrell impressed over the course of his 12 appearances for the Blues in 2016 but once he got a sniff of Connacht’s interest, he says it was “a no-brainer” to head back to Ireland.

Although he’s now well established in the Connacht squad, Farrell says he will need to improve again this season, particularly with new Australian signing Kyle Godwin providing increased competition in midfield.

With Bundee Aki, Eoin Griffin, Peter Robb, and even out-half pair Craig Ronaldson and David Horwitz also providing midfield options, Farrell – who has played 12 and 13 for Connacht – knows he needs to be sharp again this season.

“We’ve added more backs so it’s more competition for me,” says Farrell. “We have a lot of midfielders and we even have 10s who can slot into the centre. There’s a heap of centres so I’m not resting on my laurels.”

While Farrell is likely to provide more thrills with ball-in-hand for Connacht, he is also keen to continue developing his game and identifies his off-the-ball skills as an area he hopes to improve.

“One of the major aspects would be my organisation and seeing opportunities and space, then communicating it a bit better.”

With a new head coach in place in the shape of Australian Andy Friend, Farrell says Connacht are in a positive place ahead of the start of their Pro14 season at home against Glasgow next Saturday.

Tom Farrell Farrell has been sharp in pre-season. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Having won just seven games in the Pro14 last season, there is real ambition in Connacht to push back into contention for the play-offs spots and challenge for the title.

“It was only towards the end of last season, when we tweaked one or two things in our game, we showed that when we click we are quite a good team,” says Farrell.

“We put it up to the Pro14 and European champions Leinster [with a big win on the final day of Connacht's season], so there’s no reason we can’t produce that every week. If we can turn it on for the inter-pros there’s no reason we can’t turn it on for other games and get that consistency.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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