Last week Jordan Duggan became the latest in a long line of Connacht Academy graduates to make their professional rugby debuts.
The prop came off the bench in an impressive bonus-point win over Ulster, and before the game we caught up with Jordan about what life at Connacht has been like so far.
How have your first few weeks been back at The Sportsground, what has it been like?
There were a lot of things to get used to, the novelty of coming back has been brilliant. To go from training on your own to going back into small groups and getting the ball back in my hand has been great.
Was it tough training in quarantine and how did you find the whole experience?
I spent quarantine back at home in Kildare, I didn’t find it too bad. I enjoyed the training, it was refreshing to do it by myself and do it my way. But getting back with others was brilliant after training by myself for so long.
Did you pick up any hobbies outside of rugby during quarantine?
I tried my hand at basketball, I wouldn’t say I am too good, I definitely can’t jump that well. I also tried a bit of skateboarding, but I can safely say neither of them went very well.
What would you say your overall experience was like in the Connacht Rugby academy?
The Academy was brilliant, when I first came up here I didn’t know what to expect in year one. There were a few familiar faces, throughout my time the Academy staff were brilliant. They train at such a high level and get you ready for the pro game.
Are there any coaches in the Academy that helped you with your development up until this point?
Besides all of the Academy staff, I have to mention the S&C staff and physio team. I had a tough ACL injury and they were able to get me through it and help me as much as they could. All the staff put in the hard yards with me and got me to where I am today.
How did you start playing rugby?
I am the first in my family to play rugby which is odd because they are all very musical which is the polar opposite of what I am doing. I started in Newbridge rugby club, I was running around in circles not knowing what to do back then. I came through Newbridge college, that is where things got a bit more serious for me.
You are from Kildare, what has the whole experience been like in the West of Ireland since you moved?
I have part of my family living in Galway and would have come here a lot when I was younger, I was always familiar with Galway and Connacht before moving here.
How important is it that the pathway is there for players to continue to come up through the Academy into the first team?
As an Academy player training with younger lads from the sub-academy, it is good for them to be able to see the likes of us pushing on. They can see that it is possible to get into year one of the academy and move on to the pro setup which is massive for them. It filters down to grassroots rugby and schools, they have to be able to see that pathway.
There is a lot of competition for your position in August how are you preparing yourself for those games?
I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to play week in week out but you have to realise that it is a learning curve. The first year here you just have to learn from the best and do as best as you can. For the games, there is massive competition in training at the moment, everyone is eager to get playing and get back to playing games. There is definitely a bit of bite in training.
Have you learned a lot from the Senior players in your position?
Matty Burke has been great, he is close to my age so he is very black and white with me, he got great experience last season. Denis and Paddy have a massive amount of experience between them, they have been great to pull me aside and show me the dark arts. It has been great to learn from them.
What would you like to achieve with your first season with Connacht rugby?
I want to be playing every week, I know there are a few steps I have to get through first. I am looking for that jersey at the end of the day. I am training to play not just to train, I don’t want to be a professional trainer.
When the team play in August there will not be supporters at games, how are you preparing for that?
It will be strange, especially because The Sportsground is known for its atmosphere. It is a different place to come and play. It is out of our hands and we will have to focus on ourselves. We can only control what we can, it will be weird but the lads will need to have that mental switch to play like they would if there was a crowd. We will certainly miss the crowd.
Lastly, what is an interesting fact about you that the Connacht supporters would not know?
I played drums for 7 years, as I said before my family would be very musical so that certainly rubbed off on me growing up.