Darren Sweetnam could have shone for Cork, but hurling fans wish him well at La Rochelle

Dohenys club man chose the rugby path and will hopefully push on again with Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle
Darren Sweetnam could have shone for Cork, but hurling fans wish him well at La Rochelle

Former Cork hurler Darren Sweetnam featured in the 2012 league final against Kilkenny before focusing on rugby. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

ONE of the Cork hurling 'what-ifs' from the last decade was Darren Sweetnam's recruitment by Munster rugby.

These days, he's on the latest stage of his sporting journey, rebooting with La Rochelle in France under the watchful eye of Ronan O'Gara

Jimmy Barry-Murphy identified the precocious West Cork native's ability with a sliotar when he returned to the helm for the 2012 season and Sweetnam more than held his own in the league and championship. 

The day after his 19th birthday he came off the bench at half-time in the league final loss to Kilkenny and was Cork's best performer, clipping over two points. He knocked over a point as a sub in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Galway at Croke Park too, but a couple of months later he'd signed a deal with the Munster academy.

In 2013, Cork were the unlikeliest of equalising points away from lifting Liam MacCarthy. Clare made the most of corner-back Domhnall O'Donovan's leveller in the replay but Sweetnam's athleticism and pace were badly missed from the middle third throughout the season.

Beyond that, as Sweetnam matured, his power and strength would have ideally complemented the wrists of Lorcán McLoughlin and the energy of Daniel Kearney in that sector. 

It wasn't to be.

That comes with the territory, of course, many of the best hurlers on Leeside are adept at a number of sports; Sweetnam lined out for Ireland at underage hockey while in Bandon Grammar School. Hailing from Dunmanway, he'd have shone as a footballer too if he was drawn to a size five O'Neills.

After opting for rugby, the Dohenys club man steadily climbed through the ranks with Munster, pulling on the UCC, Dolphin and Cork Con geansaís in the process and was the province's Young Player of the Year in the 2016-'17 season. 

Darren Sweetnam on the attack in 2016. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Darren Sweetnam on the attack in 2016. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

He collected three Ireland caps and struck for 22 tries in 92 Munster appearances, but injuries held him back on occasion and he'd slipped to the fringes this season. It was still surprising when his switch to La Rochelle was announced, on a short-term deal as a 'medical joker'. 

Only 28 next month he made his first Top 14 appearance on Saturday night from the bench. 

He explained before departing for France: "It’s risky but it’s a great opportunity. I’ve left my home club, my comfort zone, and moved over here with my Leaving Cert French. I would regret it if I didn’t take the chance.

“I grew up wanting to play for Munster, it was always my dream, and while this isn’t the ideal way of how I wanted it to end, very few players really get the ideal ending.

“There is nothing better than running out in a packed Thomond Park stadium, it’s incredible, they are the best fans."

Munster's Mike Haley celebrates scoring a Champions Cup try with Darren Sweetnam at Thomond Park in 2018. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Munster's Mike Haley celebrates scoring a Champions Cup try with Darren Sweetnam at Thomond Park in 2018. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

The Rebel hurling faithful might wish he'd never put down his hurley, but no one would begrudge him a rugby rival in one of the best leagues in the world, especially with O'Gara overseeing it.

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