Clontarf scrum half Angus Lloyd believes Sunday’s All-Ireland League final showdown with Cork Constitution at the Aviva Stadium is the perfect reward for all the sacrifices made by the squad throughout the season.
Having previously lined out for Dublin University, Ballynahinch and UL Bohemians in the All-Ireland League, Lloyd has enjoyed a memorable debut campaign at Castle Avenue under the stewardship of Kiwi head coach Andy Wood.
“I think people sometimes don’t understand or appreciate the commitment that goes into something like this,” he said, speaking at the final’s media event in midweek. “We started pre-season back in July and it goes all the way through now to the beginning of May.
“It’s a long season doing two or three gym sessions a week, two pitch sessions, sacrificing your Saturday most weeks. Throw in Leinster Senior League games, it’s a lot of rugby. We say no to a lot of things on a social level, friends and family. A lot of sacrifices, but it’s worth it for these days.”
Following brief stints at both Ulster and Munster in the recent past, Lloyd moved to Connacht on a short-term deal in December. He did enough during his time in Galway, which included two senior appearances, to convince the management to give him a full-time contract for the 2019/20 season.
In addition to balancing his club and provincial commitments, the 26-year-old former Ireland Club international is also studying medicine at the RCSI in his native Dublin. It leaves him with a very hectic schedule from week to week, but as he heads into his final year of college, he has found a way to make it work so far.
“For it to work, both Connacht and Surgeons have to be flexible. It’s a lot of both. Basically, what I was doing with Connacht was – if I made their 23 I’d have to stay with them all week. If I didn’t make their 23, I’d train Monday and Tuesday. Leave Wednesday morning, go to college Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.
“Train with Clontarf, play with Clontarf on the weekend. Do some hospital on the weekends sometimes. Then back down for the following week to Connacht. When I went to RCSI with it, I didn’t think they’d say yes. When Connacht first approached me at Christmas, Andy Friend rang me asking would I be keen. ‘Yeah I’d be really keen, but I have to figure it out with college’.
“If they had said no, I wouldn’t have gone. From my experience of it last time, it’s just very fickle. So it wasn’t worth putting everything on the line, taking another year out of medicine, so I just want to get medicine done. Connacht have been very flexible and so have RCSI. Both of them have been amazing. It will be tough, but I think it’s doable.”
Although Lloyd’s primary focus will be on Sunday’s Division 1A decider, he will also have on eye on Connacht’s PRO14 quarter-final against Ulster in Belfast today. The westerners has been re-energised since the arrival of Friend as head coach last summer and Lloyd is fulsome in his praise of the Australian native.
“I get on very well with Andy, find him a really nice guy. He’s very upfront, he’ll tell you exactly where you stand – which is something I need because of me trying to balance my studies with the rugby. Everything needs to be up front and I just need to know because I need to go back to college and organise my affairs with them constantly.
“He’s trying to build a new atmosphere down there and put his own mark on things. I think he’s doing that. This season has been a big improvement on last season and they’re definitely playing some really nice rugby.”
While he is relatively new to the rivalry that will once again manifest itself on Sunday, Lloyd was always well aware of the prestige that surrounds Cork Constitution. During his time in Munster, he made six senior appearances alongside several players who have wore the famous white jersey at Temple Hill.
His lone try to date in the professional game came in an April 2017 victory over Ulster – his sixth-minute score proving crucial in a narrow PRO14 success at Thomond Park. It was a generally positive experience down south for the former Blackrock College student, albeit one that was also destined to be temporary.
“That first year, I loved it. When I first started with the pre-season in Ulster, it took me a bit of time to acclimatise to the speed of the game. It’s definitely a bit quicker and more physical for sure. But by the time I got down to Munster I was pretty much up to speed and it took me a while to break in and get an opportunity down in Munster.
“It just so happened in a week – (Conor) Murray did his shoulder (in a Six Nations game with Wales), Abrie Griesel tore his cruciate and Duncan Williams got a vomiting bug. I was the only one left, so they had to play me. Played well, got a few opportunities. Two starts in the end of season interpros.
“It went well, but it was too little, too late. They had James Hart coming in and, in hindsight, Rassie (Erasmus) was on the way out. It made it a lot easier going down to Connacht. I just knew what I was getting myself in to and it made it a bit easier to seamlessly fit in.”
The consistent exposure to the All-Ireland League has certain done Lloyd no harm, however, having been a regular fixture at his respective clubs for a number of seasons. Clontarf’s most recent league title triumph in 2016 was the perfect showcase for current Ireland international Joey Carbery to show what he can do and Lloyd feels it is an ideal recruitment area for provinces in need of additional cover.
“They (Connacht) had a few injuries at 9. I had an agent who had been in contact with them in the past, but we didn’t ring Connacht up saying, ‘I’m here’,” he explained.
“When these injury situations happen and they’re under time pressure to get someone in, provinces do look to the All-Ireland League. When they have a bit more time they’ll look further afield, but in the short-term they definitely do look to the AIL.”