Ahead of his potential debut during Ireland’s Vodafone Summer Series, Tom Daly has acknowledged the All-Ireland League played an important role in shaping him into the player he is today.
A native of Carlow, the 6ft 4in centre joined forces with Lansdowne FC a short while after completing his secondary school education at St. Mary’s Knockbeg College.
In 2013, he completed a unique double with Lansdowne, earning top honours as an All-Ireland Under-20 winner in the Fraser McMullen Cup and also at senior level in the All-Ireland League’s top tier.
He went on to claim a second AIL title two years later, featuring alongside a host of familiar faces, including another recent Ireland call-up in Daly’s former house-mate Peter Dooley, 2021 British & Irish Lion Tadhg Beirne and current Ireland Women’s head coach Adam Griggs.
“That Lansdowne team in 2015 was incredible when you look at it. Probably about 75 or 80% of the lads have gone on to play professional. Whether that’s Sevens, Connacht or abroad. There’s a good chunk of us down in Connacht as well,” Daly remarked this week.
“It’s funny, it’s like there’s some sort of connection between Lansdowne and Connacht. Lads who play well with Lansdowne get their chance in Connacht.
“It’s good and it made it a lot easier moving down there that I knew the lads. It was quite easy to fit in. Definitely the AIL played a major role.
“When I was in Leinster, the majority of my rugby career would have been playing in the AIL with Lansdowne. That team, coached by Mike Ruddock, was pretty much a professional team and it was a professional set-up they had there. It was definitely a big part of my development.”
With injuries and the form of others curtailing his progress at Leinster, Daly initially joined Connacht on loan in December 2018 before making a permanent move out west four months later.
He has made a total of 49 senior appearances for Connacht and really made his mark during the season just gone, including his first time to captain the team.
After being in and out of the team during his first two seasons with Connacht, he lined out on 23 occasions this term with just two of those appearances coming as a replacement.
As well as crossing the whitewash five times, he also contributed 19 points from tee – something he used to do so on a regular basis as an underage and Sevens international.
His form at provincial level was enough to warrant a phone call from Ireland head coach Andy Farrell prior to this spring’s Six Nations, and it ultimately led to him earning selection for the two summer Tests.
“He gave me a call just to say I was close. Gave me a few little work-ons and stuff like that. Just said it was to reward my form. He thought I deserved a call just to say I was close,” explained the 27-year-old.
Throughout the year the (Ireland) coaches come down, maybe once a month. It could be a different coach, comes down and watches us train and you might catch up with them for five or 10 minutes after.
“I had a good enough year at Connacht and I knew I would have been in with a shout, with Bundee (Aki) and Robbie (Henshaw) going off to the Lions. It opened up a few positions in the centre.
“On the last week of the season, Connacht didn’t have a game so ‘Faz’ had emailed Andy Friend and there was about 10 or 11 of us held back to train that week.
“I knew I was pretty close at that stage. Fortunately for me six of us got chosen. The other five lads are off on holidays or something!”
One of 12 uncapped players in the Ireland squad for the series, which kicks off against Japan next Saturday, Daly and his fellow newcomers have been getting clear messaging from the Ireland coaches about what is required of them over the next few weeks.
“They’re driving that we have a short time together, so we’re going to have to work hard. We have a few days until the Japan game now. It’s not a lot of time when you have the new lads coming in.
“It’s just getting to know all our details early, making sure we’re on top of our homework and then we’re able to train as well as we can in the afternoons. There has been a lot of info thrown at us.
“New attack calls, new defence calls, stuff like that. It’s obviously really exciting to be here and just making sure I know all my stuff so I can perform on the training pitch.”
While Daly will be hoping to pick up his first 15s international first cap, he has made multiple appearances for the Ireland Sevens team in the past.
When the IRFU Men’s Seven programme was established in its current guise back in 2015, it was Daly who was made captain of the newly-introduced team.
He later transitioned back into 15s, but was a keen observer of last weekend’s magnificent triumph at the World Rugby Repechage in Monaco, which booked Ireland’s place at the forthcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo. He added:
I played with a good chunk of them lads. Billy (Dardis), Harry (McNulty), Jordan (Conroy), all the original lads. ‘Fitzy’ (Ian Fitzpatrick), them lads who were there since day one.
“It was just incredible to watch. Every year I tune into the big tournaments. The Hong Kong ones and when they’re on the (World) Series, watching that. The improvements they’ve made year on year.
“Even joking about it down in the changing room with Nick Timoney, me and him played together (with the Sevens team) three or four years ago.
“We were saying there’s no way we’d get into that team now with how well the lads are playing. Trying to sneak into the Olympics! But there’s not a chance we’d ever get into that team now.
“It was class and you can just see what it meant to Irish Sevens just to get to the Olympics. I think that was a big goal when we started it and we came up short in Monaco five years ago. Just to see them do it now is class.”