Where Are They Now?: David McAllister
March 31, 2021 12:21 pm Site Editor
This article first appeared in the Official Matchday Programme for Leinster Rugby’s Guinness PRO14 clash with Ospreys on March 19.
THEN: David McAllister played seven times for Leinster in the 2004-05 season, starting against Ulster, Munster and Connacht.
NOW: Living in Donnybrook with his wife Karen and their dog Michael, David is back in rugby working on his coaching badges.
David McAllister and Conal Keaney meet up every now and then to swap ‘what might have been’ stories around the sporting decisions they made as teenagers.
The Ballyboden-St Enda’s and Terenure College teammates opted to specialise just after the 1998 Leinster Schools Junior Cup.
“I played a lot of Gaelic coming up,” says McAllister, “I knew how to catch and kick the ball.
“When rugby started to become more important, I found the transition quite easy because you don’t have to hop or solo the ball. You just had to run.
“Conal was one of my good friends growing up through primary and secondary schools. He quit rugby to concentrate on Gaelic and I quit Gaelic to concentrate on rugby.
“Sometimes, we chat about how I would have got on if I had gone for Gaelic and how he would have got on at rugby. I guess we’ll never know.”
McAllister was a schoolboy hero who never quite hit the same heights as a professional player. Ten years after retiring that is alright by him.
He admits the legacy of his rugby career may well stretch all the way back to the swing from heartbreak to glory in back-to-back Leinster Schools Senior Cup finals in 2000 and 2001.
In the first, McAllister missed a difficult, late penalty to leave ‘Nure 13-11 short of Clongowes Wood in front of 15000 supporters at Lansdowne Road.
Gerry Thornley wrote in The Irish Times how “in the heel of the hunt, the outcome was decided by a penalty from 35 metres in the sixth minute of injury time”.
“David McAllister’s angled kick seemed to drift back on course only after it bypassed the near post.
“There was no consoling the Terenure out-half as the full-time whistle immediately sounded.”
In the second, as fate would decree, McAllister would be back in the same position as Terenure trailed Blackrock by one point (19-18), the ball at his feet, a challenging 45 metres from the posts with just four minutes left on the clock.
It had taken all that he had within to recover from what had gone on the year before on a summer-long sabbatical playing with St John’s College in Hamilton, New Zealand.
It was there in The Land of the Long White Cloud where McAllister’s rehabilitation of confidence began, playing his part in St John’s march to the Tricolour Trophy, the coveted prize represented by the ball from the first international between the All Blacks and France in 1961.
In 2001, well aware of what had happened the previous March, John O’Sullivan penned in The Irish Times how McAllister “found himself in a similar position, the destiny of the final entrusted to his right boot”.
“He struck the ball magnificently, the touch judges raised their flags and, to watch the player wheel away in delight, was to witness a great sporting moment.”
It was a moment of salvation that has stayed with him, a springboard into life as a professional.
“That is probably what I am most remembered for and I don’t mind that. Everyone would like to leave their mark on the game they love.
“If that is mine, so be it. I will take it,” he adds.
The zero-to-hero moments of those Schools Cup finals looked like an indication for where the out-half would go in his career.
“At that age when you come out of school, you are bulletproof,” he admits.
“I was lucky enough to come through Terenure College at a time when we won the Leinster Senior Cup.”
Today, the summer output of schools stars into the academies marks the beginning of the professional process in which players discover their path through the game.
“Every 10 has to be confident in themselves. You have to have that self-belief, bordering on arrogance to play that position,” says McAllister.
“You have to think that, sometimes, you are better than you actually are, if that makes sense.”
Back then, McAllister signed to the IRFU Academy in his final year at school. It was a time of anticipation and excitement at what was to come.
“My dream was always to play for Leinster. It wasn’t necessarily to play for Ireland,” he says.
“As a kid, I was brought to Donnybrook Stadium on Friday nights to watch Leinster play under the floodlights and that’s where the dream began.
“It just goes to show the importance of early influences and I will always be grateful to my dad for that.
“I knew the stepping stones I had to take to get to where I wanted to go all the way through school. They had the summer camps where they brought you in to have a good look at you.
“You got a feel for where you stood coming up through the system. You knew about the fellas you were competing against. For me, that meant Eoghan Hickey and Barry Lynn.”
However, McAllister experienced a number of coaching changes in a short time at the start of his Leinster experience.
“You have to remember I went through four coaches in three years and every coach has his opinion of you.
“With Gary Ella, Matt Williams and Declan Kidney, I was actually ahead of Felipe (Contepomi) at 10 as the understudy to Dave Holwell.”
Strangely, he grabbed all seven Leinster caps in the 2004-05 season, making his debut against Cardiff Blues and starting all three interprovincial derbies against Ulster, Munster and Connacht, the latter in an unfamiliar role at full back.
“It was all going quite well until Michael Cheika came in and brought Christian Warner to out-half, moving me to compete at centre where I was behind Brian (O’Driscoll), Gordon (D’Arcy) and Kieran Lewis in the centre. I wasn’t ever going to get in ahead of them.
“It was unfortunate as I was probably playing my best rugby that season at 10 for my club Terenure College in the All-Ireland League.
“Different coaches have different ideas and different demands for how they want the game to be played.
“In a way, I feel that the timing was just unfortunate. Right place, wrong time.”
The grind of training and preparing to play without getting the vote of confidence to do so was hard to take.
“By the end, I would have given up my whole contract to play one more game. That is what people don’t realise about professional sport.
“It is quite hard in that sense. It is not about the money or the things that come along with it.
“It is about the love of the sport and you just want to play all the time. That is the hardest thing, when you are not playing.”
In fact, McAllister’s main regret centres around turning down the offer to sign on-loan with Munster around Christmas 2006.
The regular man at the controls Ronan O’Gara was away with Ireland. Jeremy Manning and Paul Burke were injured.
McAllister was playing in the AIL in Cork one Saturday and, afterwards, Declan Kidney asked him to move south for the winter with the promise of starting the next game due to the injury crisis.
“I probably should have gone there because I could have had a Heineken Cup medal,” he recalls.
“I should have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. That would be my only regret from the decisions I made.”
In 2007, he moved to Italian club L’Aquila, an hour outside of Rome, to play in the domestic competition, the Super 10.
After his first game, against Parma, the national coach Pierre Berbizier called, encouraging the Dubliner to declare for the Italians.
In his second game, against Calvisano, he broke his leg and dislocated his ankle in a tackle from old Leinster teammate Ben Gissing. And that was that.
McAllister returned to his hometown to take up a position as one of the Leinster Rugby Development Officers for three years, even turning down an offer of a contract from French club Dax.
In 2010, he decided to join his father working in the family business, McAllister’s Fishmongers, which, sadly, became a recent victim of the pandemic as the hospitality sector was destroyed.
Happily married to Karen, he has returned to his roots in rugby to forge a new career in the game.
“It is amazing. When one door closes, another opens. Every loss brings a new opportunity so I am now in the process of getting my coaching badges,” he shares.
“I am U-20s assistant coach with Terenure College and head coach for Technological University Dublin.
“I am really enjoying coaching and it makes me realize how much I was actually missing the game.
“I have come to realise that coaching is my passion and it is the direction I want to go in now. Passing on my skills and knowledge of the game and mentoring new talent is so rewarding.
“I myself have had the privilege of being coached by eight international coaches and have had the honour of playing rugby at the professional level.
“I see so much enthusiasm and potential in young players and I feel that I work well with them as the feedback has been extremely positive.
“In a way, it is like I have come back to where I started all those years ago and my wish is to continue on this part of my rugby journey.
“Ideally, going forward, I would like to extend my work with young rugby players and come full circle back to schools rugby bringing all my years of experience with me.
“I would love to become a schools rugby coach and pass my knowledge on to aspiring young schools players.”
Back to where it all kicked off.