Blood, sweat and joy
THE Rugby World Cup kicks off on September 18 and County Wexford native Tadhg Furlong is hoping to play his part in one of the biggest and most eagerly anticipated tournaments in world sport.
Standing 6ft 1in and weighing 19 stone, Furlong took time out from his busy schedule to talk to this newspaper about his career to date and about his hopes of becoming a regular in the Leinster set up and hopefully Irish set up for years to come.
When asked about his momentous year, lining out against the Barbarians for Ireland and playing a big role in the Leinster team which included 26 appearances, Furlong said: 'It caught me off guard a bit. If you had said to me at this stage last year that I would have played the number of games I've played, I'd have said you were mad.'
Furlong, 22, remains as focused as ever on getting in the best shape possible to compete for Ireland and Leinster over the coming months. He said: 'Over the course of pre-season I picked up a few knocks and niggles so I didn't make the progress that I would have liked, but you have to get on with it. That's professional sport. I'll be pushing as hard as I can to be in the world cup set up.'
He said even if he doesn't get picked to play during the world cup, he will have an excellent opportunity to further his Leinster Career this Autumn when other senior players are out of action for two to three months, during the tournament in England.
Furlong started playing rugby as a boy of five, following in the significant footsteps of his father James who played and coached at New Ross RFC.
Tadhg watched the senior teams play and it was on the rugby field in New Ross that his love of the game was born.
'I was thrown on the park from a young age. My dad played and coached at the club and he would never be too sparing when it came to giving me advice or a kick,' he says, recollecting those days with a broad smile.
'I was brought up in the club watching the 1st team play on Sunday's and after the game when the players and spectators would go for a few pints, I would be out on the pitch throwing and kicking around a ball. I always looked up to the guys who played in that era the likes Buddah, Softie, Richie Bolger and Mick Coady. Those sorts of real club men who represented the club week in week out.'
His father James played as a prop and he has followed him into the prop position, and now has become a specialist in the tight-head role.
He also loved playing hurling and football - both with Good Counsel College and Horeswood - and no doubt he would have gone on to excel in any sport, but a decision was made to go for rugby and he has never looked back.
Furlong played with New Ross RFC up to U19 level and was picked up for the South East Regional Squad at U16 level which is the first step in the Leinster underage structure.
He progressed onto Leinster and Ireland underage squads while in school, captaining the Leinster and Irish U18's. Once Tadhg left school he enrolled in DCU and joined Clontarf FC on Dublin's Northside. While with Clontarf he also entered the highly acclaimed Leinster academy on a three year contract and set his sights on pursuing his dream of becoming a professional rugby player.
'I got thrown into a training environment with players who previously, I would have only seen on TV, the likes of Leo Cullen, Brian O'Driscoll and Johnny Sexton. It was a huge learning curve being around them and training with them. In time you learn what makes them tick, the preparation and detail they go into, and the work they do off the pitch that sets them apart.'
In the following years he represented Ireland in the 2011 and 2012 U20 World Championships in Italy and South Africa respectively. The way he anchored the Irish scrum in the win over the hosts, and eventual winners South Africa, in the 2012 tournament was hugely impressive. He backed that display up in the play-off wins over England and France to help Ireland earn a landmark fifth-place finish. His performances marked Furlong out as a viable solution for the troublesome tight-head position in Ireland.
However while representing Clontarf early in the following 2012-2013 season his year was ended prematurely against UL Bohemians. He lacerated his kidney and was unable to train or play for six months.
'That was obviously a tough time physically, but also mentally. When a urologist looks at you and tells you that you cannot play sport, train or even go to the gym for the bones of six months it's tough to take, especially when it's all you knew from a young age. In hindsight it helped me off the pitch, I got stuck into the college work and laid the foundations for my degree.'
Never one to forget where he comes from, the Campile man paid tribute to his mother, Margaret, who is a principal at Ballycullane National School, and father, James, for ferrying him around to training sessions in Dublin. He also thanked Menapia Motors in Wexford for naming him as their brand ambassador so that he can take the pressure off his parents and ferry himself around these days.
An imposing man in build, Furlong is anything but when you meet him. He's an approachable and friendly young man. He is engaging and always willing to offer advice and support to younger players who are hoping to emulate his success.
Back to the field he is working on his scrummaging with Greg Feek at Irish level and John Fogarty in Leinster, who is very familiar with Furlong's game, having worked with him at underage level.
His family attend most of his games and Furlong relishes the opportunity to test himself at the highest level. He described the Barbarians game as the highlight of the year.
'It was unbelievable to get a run out and to put on the Irish jersey. It was a hugely proud moment for me, my family and the club,' he said, adding, 'I would love a chance to represent my country again, once you get a taste it's hard to let go.'
Looking back on last season, he expressed disappointment with how the league went for Leinster, but reflected on a European semi-final and being a drop goal away from a place in the final. He is looking forward to the new season.
'We're a hungry group of players and we're aiming high this year but what we lacked last year was consistency across both fronts. We need to get a level of consistency back in the PRO12 and take it from there. But it's a challenge that we can't wait to get stuck into.'
The business degree graduate said he may return to further his studies at a later date, but in the meantime rugby is all that is on his mind. He said rugby payers are very well looked after and the work that goes on behind the scenes in regards to the sports science being used by Leinster and Ireland is staggering he remarked.
'There is a massive team of strength and conditioning coaches, physios, doctors and rehabilitation coaches the work behind the scenes. The level of detail and the amount of science being applied to get our bodies into the optimum state for training and preforming on the pitch is second to none.'
The Wexford man has made a name for himself and will no doubt be a regular name on rugby fans lips across the world over the coming years.