Dylan Donnellan: A dream debut in a crazy week
November 6, 2023 12:00 pm Paul Cahill
This is an interview that featured in the Leinster Matchday Programme for the BKT United Rugby Championship win against Edinburgh Rugby. Dylan Donnellan would win his second Leinster cap in the game, coming on as a second-half substitute.
It was a week that every club rugby player dreams of.
28-year-old Dylan Donnellan came off the bench against the Sharks last Saturday to make his Leinster Rugby debut, having last represented the club at U-20 level.
Incredibly, Donnellan received the call to join up with the squad just five days earlier.
With Rónan Kelleher and Dan Sheehan recovering after the Rugby World Cup and with Gus McCarthy and John McKee picking up knocks, the squad was looking very light in the Hooker department.
As one of the standout players in the Energia All-Ireland League in recent seasons, Leinster coach, Aaron Dundon made the call to Donnellan to see if he would be able to come into UCD as cover.
“Yeah, it was a crazy week,” says Donellan with a smile.
“I’m on the road a lot with work and I was driving up to a meet a customer when I got the call from Aaron. He asked if I would be interested in coming in.
“I quickly said yes, but then I needed the schedule so I could let work know.”
Donnellan, a sales rep with Lennox Laboratory supplies then began building a working timeline to ensure he could continue his work and train in UCD with Leinster with the opportunity of earning his first cap.
“It worked out nicely last week because I was able to work three half days. I would go into the office in the morning and then come out to UCD for training and then back to the office.
“I then did one full day in the office and one full day in UCD with Leinster. It was a bit of a juggling act, but it worked out.
“I was getting funny looks from the lads when I was putting the shirt and tie back on after training.
“The Academy lads had confused looks on their faces, but I was saying to them, lads, this is what real life looks like.”
Donnellan is lucky that his employers are happy to see him take this opportunity.
“Lennox have been absolutely brilliant about it all. They’ve been really flexible and supportive in allowing me to come into Leinster.
“The company turned 100 years old last week and we had a big shindig. It’s nice timing really.
“They’ve been so good to me, so I want to make sure I’m still covering my work.”
After a week training with the team, Donnellan was named on the bench for the game against the Hollywoodbets Sharks.
Having represented Leinster at U-18, U-19 and at U-20 level, Dylan Donnellan didn’t take the usual route to his first cap.
Born in Galway, he began his career with Corinthians RFC where his father, Paul had played.
He attended Clongowes Wood College in Kildare and quickly made Leinster representative sides after leaving school.
He moved to France where he played with Biarritz for two years. An experience he can sum up in one word.
“As a place to live, it’s unreal. Nine months of summer, surfing, the beaches. They eat, breathe and sleep rugby down there.
“You would be walking down the street and a little old granny would stop you and they would know everything about you. It’s funny, they’d even ask how your dad is doing.
“So it’s really immersive and you’re thrown right into it. Obviously, picking up the French was great. It was basically learn French or go hungry. A brilliant experience.”
Donnellan also spent a season in England with Yorkshire Carnegie but has spent the majority of his senior career with Clontarf Rugby, who he helped to AIL glory in 2022.
It’s more than just a rugby club for Donnellan now.
“People say it about a lot of clubs, but it really is a family there. You get welcomed in and slagged to death. It felt like a community club and something I was used to in Corinthians.
“I settled in and fell in love with the place. They’re never getting rid of me now unfortunately.
“I played Leinster underage with Ivan Soroka and he was the one trying to get me to go up to Clontarf. I finally joined when I came back from England. So, Ivan and I have been playing together for about 10 years now.
“There was a lovely photo of our Leinster U-20 side that won the Interpro series and Ivan and I were side by side.
“Then there was a photo of the two us after we won the All-Ireland League 10 years later. It’s nice having both of those photos.”
Having come through the weeks training and the Captain’s Run on the Friday, he was set to take his place on the bench in the RDS for the first time.
It was a day he will never forget.
“It was great. It’s actually been quite a while since I started a game on the bench, so I didn’t know what to do with myself at times.
“It does give you a good view of the game and you can see what’s going on and visualize what you will do when you come on. There was good chat from the lads on the bench so you can talk through different elements as well.”
On a few occasions, it seemed as though the Clontarf man would be needed sooner than first thought.
“Lee Barron went down injured after 20 minutes and I was thinking, here we go. But he was grand.
“He picked up a yellow card then and I was thinking there has to be a scrum now. I’d say it was the only 10-minute period without a scrum.
“I then got a call during the second half to say I’ll be going on in five or six minutes. I was happy to start my prep and start warming up in a minute or two.
“Then, Tommy O’Brien scored a try and they said you’re going on now. So, I was straight into it, which was probably a good thing.”
Did he find it tougher than other games he has played?
“It’s faster but the breakdown is probably the big difference. If you’re not there straight away, they’ll have someone there.
“Physically, it’s a step up but I’m used to playing with a lot of big lads in the AIL. It’s more the speed on top of the extra size. It was really enjoyable once I got going.”
After helping Leinster secure a 34-13 win over the Sharks, his family joined him in the Leinster dressing room for his cap presentation.
“It was really nice. My mum Deirdre and my dad Paul came in. My fiancée, Gemma was also there. My uncle Paul was there too, and he is a massive Leinster fan.
“The support they all give me is reason I’m here. I definitely wouldn’t be here without them, so it was lovely to celebrate with all of them after the game.”
Sportsfile were on hand to capture the special moments in the dressing room with family and friends as Rhys Ruddock presented Dylan with his first Leinster cap.
“Getting those photos with my first cap and my family and the Soroka family, they’re amazing.
“They’re the things that you’ll treasure after you finish playing.”
Dylan is very much focused on winning his next cap this week but is proud that his exploits are helping to showcase the talent within the club game.
“I play with young lads in Clontarf who aspire to be professionals who are 10 years younger than me. It’s nice that they see a guy getting a shot because of what he does in the club game.
“I think the standard in the AIL is great at the moment. The Academy lads getting game time there is brilliant too.
“Whatever I can do to help the club game is great. I’ll just worry about my own game while I’m in here.”
Now that the hype has died down and the first cap is safely put away, the Hooker just wants to get set for Edinburgh.
“It’s a little different this week. The first one is special but I’m just a part of the furniture now. I’m just focused on the game and really excited to get another opportunity.”