Connacht's Oisín Dowling welcoming the opportunity to make his presence felt

Former Leinster Academy secondrow has found his feet and is feeling at home in Connacht

It might seem glaringly self-evident but for rugby player, Oisín Dowling, playing the game has been his key motivation in recent years. It triggered the move from Leinster to Connacht last season, a journey set to continue after recently signing for another two years.

“The big thing for me,” he says. “I just wanted to stay injury-free and get consistent performances. I had a good preseason, and got through it fine, and then built on that from the preseason games into this season. I’m just trying to put in consistent performances.”

The secondrow, who played alongside James Ryan in St Michael’s and was coached in school by Leinster lock Ross Moloney, has settled into life in the west and this week was looking forward to one of those glamour Sundays when Stade Francais come to Galway.

His path to this point has not been without twists and turns.


Three years in the Leinster Academy yielded just eight outings in Leo Cullen’s competitive squad. Then his career was further slowed by disc issues that followed the 24-year-old west before he earned his Connacht debut only last February against Dragons.

“I think I’ve probably found my feet at this stage,” he says. “Similar to Jack [Aungier] , I’m really delighted I got the opportunity to come up here last year. Yeah, I’m really happy to be signed on. Got to play a good bit more rugby this year and last year as well. It was a pretty easy decision.”

It was not as though he was coming into a strange group for the first time. The former Irish Under 20 and Leinster academy player knew Aungier as well as Paul Boyle and Tom Daly, who had also come from Dublin and settled in with Andy Friend.

“I talked to Boyler and Dales before coming down,” says Dowling. “Obviously I played with Dales with Leinster and Boyler at underage same as Jack. Said they spoke so highly of it [Connacht]. So it was easy in that sense.”

Daly was the captain of the Irish sevens team and was on the squad that played in the 2016 Olympic Qualification Tournament.

Familiar faces

In 2017 he suffered damage to the ACL in his knee, forcing him to miss almost that entire season. He then joined Connacht on a loan deal before signing for the province in 2019.

Boyle played underage Leinster and with Lansdowne before signing with Connacht ahead of the 2017 season. Gavin Thornbury and Nigel Carolan, who was Irish U 20 and Connacht backs coach before moving to Glasgow, were also familiar faces.

Now, in an ever-changing Covid landscape, Connacht are slated for 10 matches in 10 weeks, which brings player rotation into play more than ever.

“Yeah, it’s pretty taxing on the body obviously so there are going to be changes,” says Dowling. “You are going to have to turn the page pretty quickly each week, can’t really dwell too much on each game.

“You’ve got to be focusing on the next one. Yeah just try to keep everyone involved even if you are not playing that week, keep everyone up to speed because there is going to be a lot of chopping and changing. Everyone has to know what’s going on.”

His hopes this week settle around getting a first outing in a European Champions Cup match. He has played Challenge Cup before but Stade Francais would mark his first at the higher level.

“I played in the game against Leicester last year in the Challenge Cup, so this would be first Champions Cup one,” he says. “It’s obviously higher stakes. It’ll be a bit of a different experience. At the same time I’ve played against and with some really high-level players, so it’s not something I’ve thought about too much. I’ll just try take it like any other game and prepare the same way.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times