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'A good one': Meet the first Irishman to play for the Reds in nearly 30 years - and how he won over Sydney club rugby

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5th February, 2024
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After years of toiling away in the Irish system, Cormac Daly thought he would follow the path his parents took decades earlier when they met Down Under and head to Sydney.

He also decided he would bring his boots and mouthguard and play some club rugby.

Little did he know that it would be the springboard for his return to the professional ranks, as local clubs fought to secure the services of the former under-20s Irish international.

“When I knew I was doing the Randwick job, he was one of the first blokes we contacted,” former Los Angeles coach turned Randwick’s drought-breaking Shute Shield mentor Stephen Hoiles told The Roar.

“He had a good CV, he’d be in the Ireland system, the Connacht system and the Leinster system, and he’d just played a game for Leinster against Chili and it just so happened that Leinster were chock full of back-rowers.

“We were lucky we got him because a few other clubs were going after him.”

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What Hoiles discovered was the then-24-year-old was a hard-working forward with a unique ability to find holes in an opposition defence.

“He was excellent,” Hoiles added.

“His work rate is phenomenal, but he has the ability to find holes in an opposition defensive line. He’s constantly looking at ways to try and catch a team off guard and he does it really well.

“We knew early on that he was going to be playing professional rugby next year, we just didn’t know where. We were hoping it was going to be the Tahs, so we could keep him. Les [Kiss] has a good one there.”

Cormac Daly on the field in a friendly match between Leinster and Chile at Energia Park in Dublin. (Photo By Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Daly, 25, was quickly snapped up when Kiss was announced as Brad Thorn’s successor last winter.

Having seen him progress through the junior ranks, the former Ireland assistant and Ulster headman recognised the need to stiffen up his second-row ranks.

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It was music to the ears of the man from Kildare, who thought he would follow some friends to Australia.

“To be honest, no,” said Daly, when asked whether it was always the hope to push for a Super Rugby contract.

“When I came over, I just thought I’d put my head down and get on with it at Randwick. I never really thought something like this might happen. That probably helped me the most. I wasn’t over here to get something. I was looking to play my best footy for Randwick, and it worked out in the end.”

Daly said Hoiles, as well as his Randwick assistants Ben Hand and Rob Horne, were influential in his strong season for the Galloping Greens last year.

“A couple of the clubs got onto me and I spoke to Hoilsey and I knew it was the right place for me,” Daly said.

“He’s been fantastic, just giving me little tips. We kind of have similar thinking processes. He’s been unbelievable for me, as has Ben Hand and Rob Horne. It’s got me here and, hopefully, I can push on.”

Cormac Daly says the inability to find a decent Guinness has helped his fitness. Photo: Queensland Rugby

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Daly barely missed a minute throughout last year’s Shute Shield season and despite feeling the sapping Brisbane heat during last weekend’s narrow loss to the Western Force at Ballymore, played more minutes than any other forward.

“I just put my head down,” 198cm forward said. “It’s a bit of an Irish attitude. I wouldn’t look into it too much. You have a job and that’s my job.”

He added that the absence of a fine-tasting Guinness had likely helped his fitness.

“I haven’t found too many good Guinness’ over here,” he quipped. “It’s maybe why my fitness has improved.

“In Sydney, there’s one or two pubs. I’ve been trying to stay away from them.”

Although John Ryan featured prominently for the Chiefs last year, it’s rare for an Irishman to venture down in this part of the world.

Indeed, Daly is the first Irishman since Peter Clohessy to play for the Reds.

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“One thing coming over here and getting the chance is that not many people get the chance to play Super Rugby,” he said.  “I think John Ryan was here last year.

“I’ve got friends back home in the system and they’re talking to me and seeing me training in 33 degrees and it’s minus-21 back home. It’s cool. It’s something you can’t take for granted.”

It’s not just Daly who has settled into Ballymore either, with his teammates finally getting to grips with his accent.

“It’s funny now, the first meeting the Reds were really considering getting a translator because they couldn’t understand me,” he said.

“There were some funny looks. You’d say something and they’d look at you like you had five heads.”

So if you hear an Irish accent in the lineout this year, don’t be alarmed.

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He might just have some pulling power with his friends and family, too.

“I haven’t seen them [my family] in over a year. It’s a bit strange,” he said.

“They’re hoping to get over at some stage. My parents haven’t been back since they left 30 or 40 years ago. They think it’s a good excuse to get back.”

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