After a professional career spanning 13 years, Tom McCartney has called time on his playing career.
 
The New Zealander joined Connacht in 2014 and made over 100 appearances across his six-year stint at the club, which included a Guinness PRO12 winners’ medal in 2016.
 
Unfortunately the postponement of the current season meant McCartney and the rest of the departing players were unable to get a proper Sportsground send-off from the Connacht faithful.
 
Instead connachtrugby.ie caught up with Tom from his New Zealand home about his career, a hectic final few months, and his plans for the future.
 

 
First off Tom, tell us what the last few months have been like for you?
 
It’s been a huge change, there was a lot of uncertainty. Initially when the COVID cases were starting to get bad all around Europe and then towards Ireland, the wife and the kids packed up and went back to New Zealand.
 
It was a little bit up in the air about how serious it could be and if the country got bad it could shut down for 6 months to a year, and the last thing I wanted was to be locked away from my family that long, especially when it looked like we wouldn’t get back playing for some time. Andy Friend was a really good help so I managed to get out on the last flight Emirates was flying before they grounded all their planes.
 
When I arrived back to New Zealand it was at the stage of a level 4 lockdown for the first month that I was here. I wasn’t allowed leave the house at all for 2 weeks because I had travelled from overseas. I had to stay at the property that I was residing at and other people had to do the food shopping for me. I was lucky to have come back to 2 weeks of fantastic weather, which made it more bearable
 
I was staying at my dad’s house where there is a lime tree orchard, there was plenty of work to be done which made the experience easier. Out in the sun in the lime tree orchard is my happy place away from rugby, which meant the time flew by.
 
There must have been a lot of feelings going through your mind. Obviously you were relieved to get back to your family in New Zealand but that must have meant everything happening very fast for you.
 
It was a mad rush. We were selling our house and had just put it on the market which didn’t turn out to be the best timing! Once the wife and kids left, I was going to stay until the end of the contract until June. Once we got told that I was allowed to go home I had two days to pack up everything and do a couple of trips to the dump and gave away as much stuff as I could to a good home. I had to get the house emptied and ready for someone else to move into it. That took up all my time on the last two days, everyone was restricted and could not leave their house at that stage.
 
In terms of the goodbyes I only got to say goodbye to a couple of people briefly, that was the biggest shame, not being able to have a proper goodbye especially with your teammates of 6 years and then you are just gone without a proper goodbye. It was difficult and not how I imagined it, but I am pretty determined to come back to Galway in the next couple of years and catch up with as many people as I can to reminisce on the good times.
 
How do you reflect on your 6 years in Connacht? You must look back on them with huge fond memories?
 
I wasn’t sure how it was going to go when I first came over, I was 29 going on 30 and initially signed for 3 years which would take me through to 32. At that stage I was going to weigh up whether it was a good time to retire or carry on.
 
After enjoying my first 3 years it was a no brainer to sign on for another 3 years and finish out my career there. It was an amazing time and it has changed a lot all the way through, but that’s how rugby works, one place is never the same, the team is never the same and the coaches change.
 
I would say one thing that stayed the same is that it has always been a humble group who work hard for each other. Because of that, no one is bigger than the team and it builds a strong team spirit. One of our mantras in defence is to never give up which is the attitude that everyone has, and it is one thing that I have enjoyed.
 
Now chatting on memories over the past 6 years, everyone involved in 2016 will mention that win as being a highlight but are there any other games that stands out?
 
One of my fondest memories would be arriving in 2014 when we played at home against Munster. It was lashing rain and my first introduction to PRO12 rugby against a Munster team that was pretty stacked especially in the forwards with the likes of Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony both there.
 
It was a horrible night to be a hooker and throwing the ball into the lineout, but we did well especially against the likes of that competition. We gave 100 percent that night and ended up winning the game, we held them off on our goal line right on full time.
 
I think anyone who was at the game would remember it fondly, they got soaked and it was freezing, for me, being from New Zealand it was an eye opener and a real good introduction to European rugby. I certainly felt like I had made a good mark to start my Connacht journey on that night. We celebrated well after that win and there were a lot of happy fans that night. I can still remember the singing when I was coming off the field.
 
Let’s talk about the 2016 final. Have you had a chance to watch it back in the last four years?
 
I watched it when I came back to New Zealand that year after we had won it, but I have not watched it since. I have seen a few highlights here and there; Matt Healy’s try tends to pop up quite a lot when AJ MacGinty put the grubbar through for him which sealed it for us. The game becomes a bit of a blur when you look back on it, the things you do remember are things like the airport afterwards with all the Connacht fans travelling back, getting back to Knock airport and it being jammed.
 
We had to delay the bus for a while because they had a stage set up, the parade through Galway city and back at The Sportsground. Considering the population of the province it was huge to witness that amount of people coming out to celebrate with us, it was special. I won things with different teams with much bigger populations but never seen that level of celebration from a region. It shows how much everyone got behind us and how much it meant to everyone around the province.
 
Looking towards the future of Tom McCartney, what plans do you have and what will you be getting up to?
 
The plan was always to get back to New Zealand. We had 6 great years in Galway, my wife and I arrived newly married and we went back with a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old. Life has changed since we were last in New Zealand, both kids were born in the Galway University hospital, we will always have great memories of that. In a way, it is good time to be transitioning for the kids because my son has just started primary school last week. He is going to the same primary school that I attended when I was a young fellow.
 
For myself, I am getting into a career in real estate, so the last 6 weeks has allowed me to get a start on that. I am working a lot from home, but I am also allowed to go into the office for a bit and try and learn the trade. The funny thing about it is you play rugby for 15 years and work your way up to different levels of it and by the end of it your pretty experienced. When you start a new job, you are straight down the bottom and you must earn your stripes again.
 
One of the exciting things is there is a huge amount to learn which is a good challenge and in a way, it is like when you are starting in rugby, it boils down to how much effort you put in. I have always been self-driven which is a good trait to have, how much effort you put in directly correlates to how fast you learn and how well you end up doing.
 
Was preparing for post-rugby life something you were very conscious of, especially in the last few years?
 
It was always on the back of my mind, my focus when I was playing rugby was to play rugby as well as I could. From a financial standpoint I always had it in my head that when you start you are a young guy and compared to your friends who aren’t playing rugby you are earning good money. If you are lucky you end playing for 10 years and you are on decent money compared to your mates.
 
You have got make sure you are as far ahead as possible by the end of that 10 years because your friends will have been in a working environment for the past 10 years working their way up to a good level and you are starting again from the bottom. If you don’t take advantage of earning good money at a young age, being smart with it by saving and investing your money in different things you are going to come out at the end of it look back and see it as a wasted opportunity.
 
I was adamant when it came to budgeting, looking at different things I could do investment wise to try set myself up as well as I possibly could. When rugby inevitably does come to an end, I made sure I wasn’t going to be in a position where I had to run out and find a job in case I was going to starve. That gives you the freedom to take time to choose something you are passionate about and want to do rather than having to slave away at something you don’t enjoy.
 
I have been lucky to find a job quickly and find a job in area that I am interested in. Property has always been my second love as a rugby player and is something that I always turned to when trying to invest in things and leverage my earnings as a young player on good money.
 
Would you like to be coaching in the future or get involved with your local club or are you happy to move on?
 
In the future I would like to do something. It’s tricky at the moment while I am starting a new career, as I said before what you put into it directly correlates to what you get out of it especially when you are starting out and you are trying to build your reputation and learn as much as you can. Between that and working in some capacity almost 7 days a week along with a young family, if I was off down the local rugby club in my spare time, I am not sure how family life would handle that.
 
For the next year or so I will be getting myself up to speed with the career and after that I may have a more time and be able to manage it better. I am extremely grateful for all the coaches I have learned off down through the years and for the volunteers that weren’t doing it at a professional level. I feel obliged to pass the torch on to try and help the young guys who have got the passion and drive to excel in the sport and get to the next level.
 
Last question for you, it is disappointing that our fans couldn’t give you a proper send off, so is there anything you would like to say to the Connacht fans?
 
I would like to say thanks to the fans for welcoming my wife and I into the province and to Galway. It’s a special place, our kids were born there. There’s nothing better than walking along the prom after a good win with a coffee and you end up stopping and chatting with lots people you may or may not know, that’s the way the place is. Everyone is welcoming and friendly, it is a second home for us. One thing that will ring out in my mind for the rest of my life is listening to The Fields of Athenry when you walk off that field after a good win. You cannot beat that, it was awesome.

Connacht Rugby can confirm the following players will depart the club next month at the end of their respective contracts.
 
Tom McCartney has announced his retirement from rugby and has returned to New Zealand after six years with Connacht. The hooker has amassed 112 appearances for the province and started in the 2016 Guinness PRO12 Grand Final.
 
Fellow centurion and Connacht native Eoin McKeon departs Connacht having played 137 times since his debut in April 2010, and was also a member of the 2016 PRO12 winning team.
 
Back-three duo Niyi Adeolokun and Darragh Leader depart having also featured in the 2015/16 campaign, with the pair amassing 94 and 91 caps respectively.
 
Trio Kyle Godwin, David Horwitz and Joe Maksymiw have completed their two-year contracts after joining in the summer of 2018.
 
As previously announced, Colby Fainga’a and Robin Copeland will join French sides Lyon and Soyaux Angouleme respectively.
 
Finally front-rowers Rory Burke and Peter McCabe have completed their contracts, while Angus Lloyd departs to pursue a medical career – having passed his medical exams while under contract at Connacht.
 
Commenting on today’s announcement, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“The nature of professional rugby means there will always be comings and goings. I would personally like to wish all our departing players every success in the future and thank them for their contributions to Connacht Rugby, both on and off the field.
 
We all share in the players’ disappointment that they were unable to get a proper send-off at the Sportsground due to COVID, but they can be always assured of a warm welcome by the club and our supporters at any time in the future.”

Connacht 41
Benetton 5
 
Connacht secured a bonus point win over Italian side Benetton in their first home game of the Pro14 season. In a game that the home side dominated in all areas, they never looked like losing when they Kyle Godwin races into the corner to score the opening try after seven minutes.
 
That opening try was preceded by a penalty after three minutes from the boot of Conor Fitzgerald who controlled the game throughout with the aid of a powerful Connacht pack. That early lead gave Connacht huge confidence and after twenty minutes the attack was in full flow as the home side delivered another killer blow with Caolin Blade’s first of two tries.
 
By now the Connacht pack was completely dominant and the rolling maul was used to great effect resulting in a  Tom McCartney try. With 15 minutes to half time Connacht went in search of the bonus point try but Benetton did manage to hold them out by forcing a turnover on the stroke of half time albeit after giving away a succession of penalties.
 
With a 22 – 0 lead at half time, the result was never in question and it seemed inevitable that Connacht would drive on.
 
The home side didn’t have long to wait long in the second half as Caolin Blade picked up the ball at the base of a ruck on the Benetton 22. He showed a clean pair of heals to round three Italian defenders and touch down with the best try of the game.
 
Three minutes later Tom McCartney added his second and it was one way traffic from there. Kieran Marmion wrapped up the win with Connacht’s sixth try of the evening with four minutes remaining.
 
Next up for Connacht is an away trip to Dragons next weekend.
 
Connacht Scorers:
Tries: Caolin Blade x 2, Tom McCartney x 2, Kyle Godwin 1, Kieran Marmion 1.
Penalties Conor Fitzgerald 1
Conversions – Conor Fitzgerald x 3 Kyle Godwin 1
 
Connacht Team:
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Stephen Fitzgerald (John Porch), Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Conor Fitzgerald (Tom Farrell), Caolin Blade (Kieran Marmion), (1-8) Paddy McAllister (Denis Buckley), Tom McCartney (Shane Delahunt) Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson McCoy), Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux (Ultan Dillane), Eoghan Masterson (Sean Masterson), Jarrad Butler (Capt), Paul Boyle.

Players and coaches from Connacht Rugby, in conjunction with Official Fuel Partner Top Oil, attended Rice College, Westport and Calasanctius College Oranmore recently to meet and inspire the next generation of rugby players and students within the school.
 
In Oranmore, Sean O’Brien made a welcome return to his alma mater Calasanticus College. He was joined by fellow senior professional players David Heffernan and Stephen Fitzgerald along with Club & Community Rugby Officer Morgan Codyre.
 
Coach Development Officer JP Walsh was joined by senior professional players David Horwitz and Tom McCartney on the pitch in Westport. Head Physiotherapist of Connacht Rugby Gareth Coughlan was also on hand to answer questions and provide expert insight on what it takes to prepare and maintain high level professional players.
 
The young students learned the importance of preparation and how a mix of hard work and commitment, rest and correct nutrition along with the ambition and belief to succeed can ensure high performance on and off the field.
 
Commenting on the initiative, Regional Manager for Top Oil Clíona Ní Murchú commented:
“As a family owned company with deep roots in our community we work hard to make a difference in the communities we serve. We are delighted that through our sponsorship of Connacht Rugby we can create special moments such as these to inspire the next generation. It was great to see so many boys participating in the training session and asking some really good questions during the Q&A.”
 
Connacht Rugby Sponsorship Manager Gavin Duffy commented:
“We have seen significant growth in participation across our school’s program over the last number of years. Top Oil are not only our Official Fuel Partner but also the sponsor of our Schools Cup competitions and their continued support over this period has been significant and greatly appreciated. Like Connacht Rugby, Top Oil are committed to making a positive impact across our communities and it is great to see this particular initiative of connecting todays professional players with the next generation of stars bringing our vision of Grassroots to Green Shirts alive.”
 

 

 

Check out all the highlights from Saturday’s impressive 46-5 win over the Ospreys at a windy Sportsground – a result that has sent Andy Friend’s side back into the playoff spots with just four games to play.
 

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made five changes to his starting team to face the Cheetahs in the Guinness PRO14 in Bloemfontein on Saturday (kick-off 3pm Irish time).
 
Into the side comes hooker Tom McCartney, lock Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle and Robin Copeland in the back row and winger Niyi Adeolokun. Connacht are aiming to back up their bonus point win over the Southern Kings last week with a second win on their South African tour.
 
The inclusion of the experienced McCartney sees him join a front row alongside props Denis Buckley and Conor Carey. In the second row, Ultan Dillane joins Thornbury who is set to start his first game since returning from a shoulder injury that he picked up in the win over Scarlets earlier in the season.
 
In the back-row Copeland at number 8 and Boyle at blindside will line up alongside skipper Jarrad Butler.
 
Adeolokun is the only change in the backline with his inclusion on the wing. He will be part of a back three that incudes Matt Healy on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.
 
Jack Carty, man-of-the-match last week, continues his half-back partnership with Caolin Blade as do the midfield duo of Kyle Godwin and Tom Farrell.
 
While Head Coach Andy Friend was satisfied with the bonus point win last weekend, he says they were still left with plenty of areas for improvement this week: “The win against the Kings last week was hugely important for the morale among the group and it sets us up for the challenge of taking on the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. The players have worked really hard in training over the two weeks. They have been hugely challenged in the intensity and physicality that we have worked on and they have responded really well. Coming over here we set ourselves the target of two wins and that firmly remains our goal.”
 
Friend is not underestimating the challenge that his side face, against the Cheetahs whose home form has been extremely competitive since joining the PRO14 last season: “We will need a step up in intensity and execution from where we were last weekend to challenge the Cheetahs. They are a competitive side who are well able to throw the ball around and open teams up and the boys are well aware of that. But we will continue to focus on our game and constantly improving ourselves and delivering a result”, Friend added.
 
#CHEvCON
 
Kick-off 3pm (Irish Time):
 
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Robin Copeland.
Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Colby Fainga’a, James Mitchell, David Horwitz, Cian Kelleher.

Connacht captain Jarrad Butler has returned from injury to take his place in the Connacht starting team to face Ulster on Friday in Kingspan Stadium (Kick off 7:35pm).

Butler is one of four changes to the Connacht side that started against Leinster last weekend. Academy player Paul Boyle also comes into the back row where he is named at number 8.

There is one change in the front row as Tom McCartney starts at hooker in place of the injured Dave Heffernan who captained the team against Leinster. The remainder of the front 5 is unchanged with props Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham both included as is Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux in the second row.

Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion continue their half back partnership as do Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell in the midfield.

Matt Healy’s return from injury on the wing sees him included in a back three that includes Niyi Adeolokun on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.

 

Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend says that both sides have a challenge after a six-day turnaround from respective interpros last weekend; “Both sides had tough games last weekend, us against Leinster and Ulster against Munster. Both sides will be trying to recover from the six day turnaround and that is the challenge in these big games”, Friend said.

 

“This week involved reviewing the game last week and fine tuning things from last weekend so we are ready to go for Friday. It is great to have our captain Jarrad back and one or two other guys who were returning from small knocks. We are expecting a massive challenge from a real quality Ulster side”, he added.

 

#ULSvCON

Kick-off 7:35pm:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, (1-8)Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Paul Boyle.

Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, James Cannon, Colby Fainga’a, Caolin Blade, Kyle Godwin, Cian Kelleher.

The Connacht management team have released the following squad update following last week’s pre-season friendly away to Brive.

 

Hooker:
Tom McCartney sustained a recent ankle injury in training and is progressing well with a return to training planned for early September.

Jonny Murphy sustained a rib injury in the game versus Brive last week and his progress will be monitored by the medical team this week.

 

Lock:
Peter Claffey sustained a calf injury in preseason and is due to return to training in early September.

Gavin Thornbury sustained a shoulder injury in preseason and is due to return to full training in early September.

 

Back Row:
Robin Copeland sustained a recent hip injury in training and is currently undergoing rehabilitation with the medical and fitness team with a planned return in the coming weeks.

Eoghan Masterson sustained a hand injury in the game versus Brive last week and will undergo surgery this week with his return date to be confirmed post surgery.

 

The Connacht starting XV to take on Wasps at Dubarry Park, Athlone this Saturday (k/o 3pm) will be named later today.

The 2017/18 Connacht Rugby Awards Ball takes place at the Galmont Hotel & Spa in Galway on Sunday May 6th, and we’re  delighted to now confirm the 42 nominees who are up for awards on the night.

There are 16 awards in total, ranging from U18s through to referees, coaches, junior, club, academy and pro player level.

The nominees are as follows:

Connacht Rugby U18 Player of the Year
Darragh Murray – Buccaneers
Niall Carney – Galway Corinthians
Conor O’Shaughnessy – Galwegians

Connacht Rugby U19 Player of the Year
Colm Reilly – Buccaneers
Niall Murray – Buccaneers
Cian Huxford – Galway Corinthians

Connacht Rugby U18 Girls Player of the Year
Aine Galvin
Kayley Mannion
Lily Brady

Connacht Rugby Referee of the Year
Karol Collins
Mark Fitzgerald
Gerry Geraghty

Connacht Rugby Coach of the Year
Dave Newman & JP Leonard – Ballina
Ross Mannion – Sligo
Greg Glynn – Loughrea

Connacht Rugby Women’s Club Player of the Year
Karen Douglas – NUIG RFC
Edel McMahon – Galwegians
Ursula Sammon – Castlegar

Connacht Rugby Women’s Player of the Year
Alison Miller
Grainne Egan
Nichola Fryday

Connacht Rugby Junior Player of the Year
Fergal Tully – Ballina
Ian McDonagh – Connemara
Aidan Leech – Creggs

Connacht Rugby Senior Club Player of the Year
Martin Staunton – Buccaneers
Manu Parkin – Sligo
John Maloney – Galwegians

Connacht Rugby Club of the Year
Ballina RFC
Sligo RFC
Creggs RFC

Connacht Rugby Academy Player of the Year
Cillian Gallagher – Galway Corinthians
Kieran Joyce – Galway Corinthians
Paul Boyle – Buccaneers

Connacht Rugby Try of the Year
Ultan Dillane v Ulster (23/12/17)
Jack Carty v Brive (9/12/17)
Niyi Adeolokun v Cheetahs (4/11/17)

Connacht Rugby Fans’ Player of the Year
Jarrad Butler
Jack Carty
Tom Farrell

Connacht Rugby Players’ Player of the Year
Tom McCartney
Jarrad Butler
Matt Healy

Two further awards that will be presented on the night include the Lifetime Contribution to Rugby Award, and the Connacht Rugby Unsung Hero Award.

Tickets for this Black Tie event are on general sale at a cost of €100 per person. To book call 091 561568.

Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane has made three changes to his starting team that travel to the RDS to take on Leinster on New Year’s Day (K.O. 3:15pm). Hooker Tom McCartney, lock James Cannon and winger Cian Kelleher come into the side having all started as replacements in the home win over Ulster last weekend.

McCartney takes his place in the front row alongside loose head Denis Coulson and tight head Finlay Bealham. The pack that dominated against Ulster and contributed four tries, two from lock Ultan Dillane and one each from flankers Eoghan Masterson and Jarrad Butler, sees one other change. Lock James Cannon comes in as a direct replacement for Quinn Roux.

Cian Kelleher joins a back three that includes the in form winger Matt Healy and full back Tiernan O’Halloran. In the midfield Ireland international Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell continue their partnership.

Jack Carty continues at out half alongside scrum half Kieran Marmion.

Connacht will take confidence from the win against Ulster but will be fully aware of the challenge they face against an in form Leinster side according to Head Coach Kieran Keane. “It was great to get the interpro series off to a flying start against Ulster and coming off two big wins in Europe it was no more than the boys deserved. They are a great group and have been working really hard and we saw the results of that hard work with the performance they delivered against Ulster”, Keane said.

“We face another big challenge against Leinster. They are a top side and are really in form as we saw with their performance against Munster in Thomond Park. We will be focusing on ourselves and our game plan and will try and implement it as best we can. We had a fantastic home crowd that really got behind us in our win last weekend, but the roles will be reversed on New Year’s Day. We will be the underdogs against Leinster and we will need to put in a big performance against them”, added Keane.

Flanker Eoghan Masterson who scored a try in the win over Ulster, feels that Connacht’s game plan has been coming together over the last few weeks. “It takes time to get used of a new style and a new system and that’s what we have been working on since the start of the season. When people outside of Connacht don’t see immediate results, they presume that the plan isn’t working but that’s not the case and we have seen things really coming together over the last few weeks. Against Leinster we are fully aware of the challenge. The RDS is a very tough place to go and win and very few teams manage to do it. The interpro games are difficult games, especially when you are playing away from home, so we are under no illusion of the challenge we face on New Year’s Day”.

 

#LEIvCON

Kick-off 3:15pm:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Bundee Aki, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, (1-8) Denis Coulson, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (Capt)

Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Quinn Roux, Naulia Dawai, Caolin Blade, Eoin Griffin, Niyi Adeolokun.

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