Calvin Nash eager to grasp any Irish opportunity

Munster man thrilled with his call-up after impressing on the recent Emerging Ireland tour to New Zealand

Over the last week, the sense was things were beginning to break his way.

When Andy Farrell announced an Irish squad for the beginning of the November Series, Calvin Nash was one of six uncapped players named. This week Munster confirmed a two-year contract extension.

Yesterday, he was in Irish Rugby’s high performance unit in Sports Campus Ireland explaining to the room how his rugby life has spun into a different ellipse.

The 25-year-old, who made an impact on the recent Emerging Ireland tour, was getting fitted for his Munster suit when the news broke on Andy Farrell’s crooked, beckoning finger.

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“We were getting fitted and one of the lads came up and said, did you get an email?’ and I was like, ‘Oh god,’” says Nash. “My heart was racing and I said I needed to run back to my phone. I was shocked, to be honest.”

“I saw I was selected to the main squad and I was just delighted. I told my girlfriend [Ciara] straight away and she was actually crying in the store. I was telling her to relax!”

Beside him on the bench is a hard-backed notebook. Like the freshman student winger he is, every lecture needs diligent notes. Knowing the calls and where he should be if he is to earn a first cap is one of the few academic demands. If that happens, it cannot just be a wild hit out.

Along the inside of his left forearm is another reminder. A tattoo curls towards his wrist in just one line of Arabic script, a dedication to his grandfather Eamon Maher. It’s meaning, “I see the moon,” a reference to the English lullaby his grandfather used to sing.

“He was a big role model for me when I was growing up,” he says.

But if there is any suggestion that Nash is a new face among strangers and finding his own way solo through the challenges of a senior Irish squad, the bigger truth is that familiar faces are not so far away.

In the Ireland Under-20s Nash played alongside Caelan Doris, Ciaran Frawley and Jordan Larmour.

“I don’t want to forget any names . . . Yeah, Gavin Coombes. I’m forgetting my own lads,” he says.

He won his first cap for the Irish 20s against Italy in February 2017, just a week after making his Munster senior debut against Edinburgh while still a 19-year-old. It has taken him some time for him to become an overnight success.

Some of the Irish faces, he concedes, he has mostly only seen on television or in the occasional match played against them with Munster, the Irish captain being one of those.

“I was thinking about that myself,” he says. “You are quite used to seeing those faces on TV and then you actually are meeting them and they’re saying ‘I’m Johnny’ and I’m like ‘I know who you are’.

“Faz [Farrell] even spoke about it this morning: the challenge is to get up to speed as quick as possible. Even if we had six months to spare, he would want us up to speed as quick as possible. That’s what I am trying to do, carrying the notebook around and trying to get the info in and just be as good as we can when we start training.”

The Irish Under-20s side he was part of finished ninth in the Junior world Championship in the summer of 2017. His personal mark was three tries.

Graduating from the Munster academy to a development contract, he was part of the Champions Cup squad in the 2017-2018 season, playing in seven of the games and scoring two tries. But he has also been unlucky with injury.

“I won’t lie, it was kinda frustrating,” he says. “I felt like sometimes I was getting a bit of momentum and then I’d pick up a knock and it would set me back a bit or it would be a big game, so Earlsie [Keith Earls] and Bomber [Andrew Conway] would be picked. You’re trying to keep that momentum with you, even though I might have only played every four weeks.

“I wouldn’t get that much of a string of games whereas this year, the lads have been out and with Emerging Ireland as well, I’ve kinda had a lot of games. Beside the two pre-season games, I have three or four games already which is real good. I feel like I’ve been able to have a flow to my game and stay in it that way.

“I really tried to almost bulletproof my body, working on different strength exercises, mobility, and stability. I worked on that throughout Covid.”

Right now, his feeling is that a cap would be timely. But far from assuming it, he is grateful for it and with a fit body presents with self-belief. He needs a break, an opportunity, now with a full deck to play with.

In Munster he also believes support for the younger players has been one of their growth areas. They are backed more, pushed harder to reach the standards.

“I was honoured to get the call-up,” he says. So, it would be another level up to get on the pitch. It came quicker than I thought it would. I would love to sing the anthem. It would be class.”

He can, if it keeps breaking his way.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times