Growing up in a strong rugby household, a career in professional rugby was destiny for Eoghan Masterson. His days of playing out in the back garden with his father and younger brother Seán is where his fondest memories of rugby began. Some of the lessons he learned back then are ones that he still plays by today. We sat down with Eoghan to chat about his roots in Westport, getting back to pre-season training to the books that gave him a new perspective during lock-down.
Eoghan, how have you found life these past 3 months?
It is great to be out the other end of it now, it was a pretty strange experience. In a way, I enjoyed it, to be able to have that time to reflect on a couple of things and to get a break from playing every week and letting the body heal up. I am delighted to be back in seeing the lads and to get back into a good routine. Connacht did a great job taking apart the gym and rationing out equipment to everyone.
We are in our third week now and it is clear to see that a lot of the players have come back in seriously good condition. It would have been easy to come back in bad condition spending the whole of quarantine watching Netflix and playing the PlayStation. The squad made the most of that time to come back in better shape than they were before. We are in a great place going into these games in August.
I know your parents live in Mayo, did you get to see them when the restrictions were lifted?
I stayed in Galway during the lock-down, my girlfriend is a nurse in the University hospital, I wanted to make sure I stayed. I didn’t see my parents until the county to county restrictions were lifted. I saw them recently, it was great to see them, they live in Aughagower just outside of Westport. They had just moved there after retirement and were delighted to be in the countryside and have the fresh air.
We had some fantastic news at the start of the summer with your brother Sean signing his first professional contract. Your parents must be seriously proud. How does it feel to officially have your little brother on the team with you?
Last year was a big year for him, he made his debut on the Connacht team back in October against Treviso. It was cool to witness that, he did come on to replace me which I wasn’t too happy about. It was great that he got on and made his debut, he played again later in the year against Leinster and did well. It’s fantastic that he will be here for another year and that he has graduated from the academy and is a fully pro player. I am looking forward to having a few more good days together and hopefully we can share the pitch a few more times. It’s tough on my mom as she is a bit of a worrier, I think she would have liked us to play golf or something instead. But I think she is getting used to it now.
Two members of your household are now professional rugby players, is there a history of rugby in the Masterson family, how did you both end up playing rugby?
My dad was a keen rugby player himself but didn't play at a professional level. I would say the professionalism kicked in after he was finished his rugby career. He played at a high level in Scotland with Sterling county, that’s where is he from. He then moved to Westport where he met my mother. He played rugby for Westport and was a builder by trade initially, he helped to build the clubhouse in Westport RFC. I have a photo of him working on that which makes me very proud. My cousin’s farm is the farm that is beside Westport RFC. We have a lot of roots in Westport, I never played with them myself as my dad became a prison guard and moved to Portlaoise after that. He would be well known around Westport RFC.
My uncles would have played rugby in Scotland, it was my dad who got us into it initially, my sister didn’t pick it up, she wasn’t as keen on it but she has been doing plenty of running over the lockdown period. My dad was a huge influence on Sean and I growing up, we played rugby in the back garden and he was able to show us a thing or two and teach us things that I still remember to this day like forwards should never kick the ball.
Were you and Seán competitive growing up and were you able to teach him some rugby lessons?
I am five years older than Seán, so by the time I was taking rugby seriously at around 13 years of age, he would have been 8 or 9. But that’s not to say that he wasn’t incredibly keen, as I was hitting adolescence he was still only a boy, that’s not to say I didn’t take it easy on him. He certainly did his best to get a few up on me, Last year was great, because of the age gap, we were never in school at the same time or got to play on the same team. Now we get to train and play together, I am trying to appreciate it and enjoy it.
Would you say it has made you closer?
“Hmmm, maybe you will have to ask Seán that?” We have our moments and do fight now and again. I think overall, we are lucky that we have a good relationship with my mum, dad, and my sister. We all get on well which I am very appreciative of that.
You are in your 3rd week of pre-season training, what is the new setup like and are things changing as the weeks go by?
There is no dressing room, which is a massive part of the team and where the craic happens and it’s a place where you get to have a lot of the small conversations with people and get to know them a bit better during those down periods. Everything has been condensed the last few weeks, initially we trained in groups of six. There are three-time slots, one group is in the early morning, the next is in at lunch and the final group comes in during the evening time. The groups have increased week by week, we are now in two groups of twenty players this week and we were able to do some team stuff on the pitch in the bigger group. I am looking forward to the restrictions being lifted a bit more and getting to see all the lads together on the pitch at the same time and hopefully getting our dressing room back too.
It must be tough to go from training at home to going to intense sessions back in the Sportsground and eventually into games?
I think our athletic performance department has been good in that aspect. They have been able to build us up to a certain level where we can transition to go back on to the pitch and play rugby. The weight sessions that Johhny, Dave, and Bob provided, built up nicely which made it much easier to adjust when we returned. If you hadn’t put in the work it would have been a shock, as David Howarth says we “we do not like shocks or surprises”.
We have had lots of news with new signings over the past few weeks, do you know any of the players previously and have you had a chance to talk to the ones that have arrived?
I didn’t know of them previously on a personal level, but in my group the first week I was in a group with Oisín Dowling, Jack Aungier, and some of the lads who graduated from the academy. I got to know them over the first couple of weeks quite well, they are all great lads and full of energy and enthusiasm. They are all young players and I have been impressed with what I have seen from them so far. This week I got a chance to train with Sam Arnold and Conor Oliver and they seemed to fit in well. I am looking forward to meeting the rest as the weeks go by.
That is one benefit of being in the small group, would you say it gives you a chance to get to know the guys a bit better?
It’s good to be in a group with new people, if you were in a group with the lads that you already know then you wouldn’t have an opportunity to get to know the new guys as well. I am glad we had that small environment to get to know the lads better and hopefully they have felt that they settled in quicker because of the group they were in.
Looking towards the games in August, how are you preparing yourself to get back to that match fitness again?
This week we had our first proper rugby session back on the pitch, we did a combination of running before the session to get you fatigued, and then we progressed on ball skills. We did a bit of defence work with Pete, ball carrying, and contact with Jimmy (without contact that is) along with some attack stuff with Nigel. Over the next couple of weeks, most of our fitness training will come from the pitch in rugby like scenarios so when the games come around, we will have that experience. We won’t have played games for almost five months at that stage since we played the Kings back in March. I think training as much as we can on the pitch and in the right way will be as close as we can to full match fitness.
Outside of rugby, we know you like to read a lot, did you read any interesting books over the past 3 months?
I read a lot during quarantine, one of my favourites was “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holliday which is a book about stoicism, embracing setbacks, and using them as fuel and motivation to progress to the next thing which I found very interesting. My favourite overall was “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, which a lot of the players have read. It is relevant to us now because there is a lot of talk around building good habits, setting up a good routine, and making something automated so you don’t even have to think about it. I have taken a lot on board from that especially around planning your day, manufacturing your environment in a way that can help you be successful.
Lastly, Friendy requested that you all come back to The Sportsground having learned or mastered a new skill on or off the pitch, what would you say yours was?
One of the cool things I did over lockdown was walking, it wasn’t for my fitness but more to clear my head and pass a bit of time. During the lock-down, my girlfriend and I decided that we would do a marathon worth of walks within our 2km radius in one day. We managed to do 42km within that 2km radius which took us 7.5 hours. I can’t say I ran a marathon, but I have done a marathon “slowly”. That was a cool thing to have done and somewhat tick of the bucket list.