Five years ago a teenage Darren Sweetnam was part of a Cork senior hurling team that reached an All-Ireland semi-final. Now he’s a full Irish international and the player himself is amazed at his incredible journey.
The 24 year old replaced Rob Kearney, on his 77th outing for Ireland, with five minutes remaining and made an impact in his cameo appearance in the 38-3 rout of the Springboks.
Only Steff Evans has been involved in more Pro14 tries this season and the Cork man was quickly sniffing danger when he chased a Joey Carbery kick into space.
The Cork man was eventually halted by the covering defence, but the ball was recycled and eventually resulted in Jacob Stockdale crossing the whitewash.
A day to remember for the multi-talented sportsman who has previously represented Ireland at underage hockey.
“It was absolutely incredible, almost surreal,” a beaming Sweetnam told RTÉ Sport. “Growing up as a young kid in Ireland, all you want to do is put on that green jersey. I was absolutely thrilled, and there was a good old roar, so I enjoyed that as well.
“I was getting goosebumps walking out with the fireworks and the smoke. It was something I have never experienced before but I loved every minute of it.”
In 2012 Sweetnam made the ambitious move to give full-time sport a shot. While he had established himself in the engine room of an energetic Cork side under the tutelage of Jimmy Barry-Murphy, he had shown himself an able rugby player at Schools and underage level.
A three-year deal with the Munster Academy was signed and the Ireland debut was further vindication of his choice.
“It backs my decision to go with rugby, but you just think about getting on and doing your job. I just concentrated on what was ahead.
“It was nice to get my hands on the ball,” he says modestly.
Icing on the cake! Stockdale wraps it up for Ireland – first leg of our sporting trilogy ends with a win https://t.co/WrXtBRolgi #RTErugby pic.twitter.com/Za6rbIVkOs
— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) November 11, 2017
The entire squad has been welcoming and full of advice, singling out Johnny Sexton and Andrew Conway for going out of their way to make him at home in the international fold.
The guidance from provincial team-mate Keith Earls, whose mid-week injury paved the way for his selection among the replacements, was a gesture that particularly stood out.
“Keith Earls has been so good to me. He goes through every move with me. When he got injured, he came over to me to make sure I was okay with everything.”
Of immediate concern is his initiation song. Country Roads is the likely choice by virtue of the fact it is the only song in his locker.
Of greater importance is the journey Sweetnam has embarked and his thirst to improve on his momentous day.
“I never thought I’d get a cap. I won’t get ahead of myself, I have to keep working hard.”