I don’t know how Paul O’Connell knew who I was. He just said, “Hoya, died?”

Walking into the room, Matt Darcy didn’t expect Monster captain Paul O’Connell to have any idea who he was.

Darcy did not pass the usual route to the academy. He wasn’t in the professional game at all until a couple of months before that.

Instead, the 24-year-old had shone in the All-Ireland League for Clontarf. New D’Arcy was a player of the season that was universally acclaimed at AIL when Anthony Foley asked him to stand trial in Monster in the summer of 2015. The smart center had done enough to earn him a six-month residency in the county.

O’Connell was absent from Ireland at the World Cup for Darcy’s first few months in Limerick, but when he came back with a hamstring injury that would have ended his career, they got a chance to meet. It was one of the few subtle things D’Arcy brought Clontarf back from that foray into the professional game.

“Paul was doing some rehab and I don’t know how he knew who I was, but I walked in and he just said, ‘Hoya, he died? “Something like this is a little touch,” Darcy explains.

“Obviously he asked if there was any new one coming and told him about me and was able to say my name when he met me. Things like that in terms of driving I would try to put up with.”

As captain of Clontarf these days, D’Arcy understands why these small gestures matter. He has embraced the role of captain and enjoyed success in it, lifting the AIL Division 1A Energia Cup again in May After beating Terenure.

Darcy during his time with Monster.

AIL’s new season begins in two weeks’ time, and Darcy was considering a Tarf win for the club’s fourth title. Andy Wood’s team is focused on improving rather than just trying to repeat what they did last season.

They’ve made some sharp signings in the likes of JJ O’Dea and Ben Murphy of Old Wesley, although there is one big name on the departures list – Matt’s twin brother, Adrian. The combat version was a spell for Tarf and would be missed.

“That would be weird because I’ve played with him since I was five,” Matt says.

“Hopefully we’ll get him involved a bit off the field because he’s won three AILs and he can provide that experience. I missed my first AIL. [in 2014], I was in Australia. We have a joke I’ll keep playing until I deal with it! “

Last season was a resurgence for AIL. The pride of the diocese is back as clubs put the pandemic behind them. The quality of the rugby was excellent.

“The way things went without them [provincial] “The competition is going on, there has been a lot of noise around the league and a lot of these guys are playing in the league,” Darcy said.

“Everyone has raised the bar, there have been a lot of communities realizing how good these games are. The sponsors have done a great job and there seems to be a lot of hype around again.”

The quality of rugby at AIL is the product of the levels of professionalism at clubs like Clontarf. They are largely amateur players of course, but there is no shortage of commitment and diligence.

Matt Darcy and Adrian Darcy celebrate the trophy

Twin brothers Matt and Adrian Darcy lift the trophy last season from AIL.

Source: Ben Brady / INPHO

“It might surprise people with the level of detail and how close it is to a professional setup,” Darcy says.

Like the others, Clontarf uses analysis software to segment their games for individual and group reviews. They have GPS trackers feeding into a player care app that allows the club’s S&C coaches to manage the team’s training workload. Very few stones were left unturned.

Darcy credits coach Wood with pushing the team tactically as well. Wood, a New Zealander of origin, had a lock or back row in his playing days, which included playing Tarf in his final defeats at AIL in 2003 and 2006. As a coach, Wood led the club to six AIL finals, winning three of them.

“He was an old school player and that probably came in his early years of coaching,” Darcy says.

“But it’s an adaptation, it’s about the welfare of the players and we don’t kill each other during the week unless we have to. It’s rugby that’s very tactical and modern. The details are incredible and the mind of rugby has really come out.”

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Wood’s training has been useful for little guns like Joey Carbery, who have played a lot of AIL rugby with the Tarf on their way to bigger things in the professional game.

D’Arcy balances his rugby commitments with his full-time job at Banjoman Films, the production company he owns.

He took time off from the day’s work in 2015 for that time with Monster, a task he meditated upon as enjoyable. D’Arcy didn’t get a full big hat but made regular appearances for the Munster A team.

Matt Darcy

Darcy died at the Energia All-Ireland League launch party for the 2022/23 season.

Source: Morgan Treacy / INPHO

Says D’Arcy, who also played for Leinster A and captain of the Irish club team.

“I was fortunate enough to work with Aled Walters [the S&C specialist who went on to win the World Cup with South Africa] At the time, managing my workload was a big deal because I wasn’t used to doing two sessions a day with that intensity. If you’ve come through the academy, you’re probably used to it. The actual rugby side of things, the escalation wasn’t as big as I thought.”

When his time with Monster was over, Darcy had no thoughts to continue chasing a professional rugby career. He saw friends and former teammates who lived uncertain lives competing for contracts every season or two and felt that wasn’t the case for him.

“I was in a good position to have my own business with my best friend. I just said to myself that if I couldn’t play in a big game in Thomond Park or Aviva, maybe that wasn’t what I wanted to do.

“I had this business that was successful and I really enjoyed, and then a team at a high level of rugby played in AIL, so that was the best option for me.”

He thinks there are a lot of players in AIL now who could make that move, while he believes that playing in the league is crucial for the youngsters who are already in the academies.

“We have boys in Clontarf who work in the area and get a taste of it there, but they also play good rugby at AIL. In a year or two, they will have the best of both worlds.”