Conor Mitchell, right, in action for Young Munster against Old Crescent earlier this season
THIS time three years ago, dynamic Young Munster flanker Conor Mitchell was lining up alongside 70-time capped Wallaby out-half Quade Cooper with the Australian 7s team in the inaugural HSBC Canada Sevens tournament in Vancouver.
Exciting young Queensland forward Mitchell was then signed up by the Australian Men’s Sevens team for the 2016-17 World Rugby Sevens Series.
Mitchell had impressed in the Australian colours with his captaincy of the Australian University Sevens Team at the World University Games in 2016.
His coach with the Australian 7s side was current Connacht head coach Andy Friend. Small world, rugby.
A few short seasons on from his Australian 7s debut and Irish passport holder Mitchell is making waves with Young Munster in Division 1A of the All-Ireland League.
Mitchell grew up on Australia’s sunshine coast, an hour and a half from Brisbane.
“I played most of my rugby in Brisbane, especially at school level, it's a massive stronghold for union, but it's pretty diverse, sports wise.
“I was in Sydney the last two years before coming over here. I played for Australia 7s. I was with them for a year. I also played Queensland Country for two or three years.
“Obviously the hope was to get a contract with the (Queensland) Reds, have a professional rugby career. There is still that hope there, obviously I have ended up abroad now, so plying my trade overseas.”
The opportunity to move to Limerick and Young Munster came about for Mitchell through his friendship with Munsters’ tighthead prop Colm Skehan who was also his club mate when they played together in Sydney.
“I was playing with Colm Skehan in Sydney at Souths, the club I played with down there. My mum's dad was born in Northern Ireland. That is how I have been able to have an Irish passport. Colm spoke to me about it all and the opportunity to come to Young Munster this season presented itself and I jumped at it.
“I was in Ireland the year before last, just on a bit of a holiday with a mate. I was only here for about four days. I managed to do a bit of the tourist stuff which was pretty good. I haven't done too much of it this time, but will definitely get out to do some later.
“I had heard of Munster obviously, but didn't know a huge amount about them. It was pretty funny. When my Mum went to visit her Mum in England a few years ago, she actually came back with a Munster jersey with me, so it was pretty ironic then that I ended up over here!
“The weather hasn't fazed me too much since I arrived, but I do miss the sun at times. It hasn't been too bad.
“I came over last September, just before the start of the season. It is a massive change. It's a very different style of rugby over here, it is a lot more forward-orientated here, a lot tighter play and probably a bit more physical.
“Back home it's quicker, the emphasis is on playing quicker and speed. Both styles have their pros and cons, but I am definitely loving it here.”
One of the biggest changes in the styles of play between Australia and Ireland is that greater emphasis here on set-piece play at least partly due to the wetter weather and heavier pitches.
“Back home, you might focus 10 or 15 minutes on scrum and line-outs at training and it is all plays off it, but a lot more time here is spent mauling, scrummaging. It is a massive attacking opportunity here if you have a dominant forward pack and I think that is something you need to get used to.
“We don't have these (wet) weather conditions back home, so it is very different here.
“Getting dominant ball carries is something you need to work on and also being dominant in defence.
“I have loved it. It has been an awesome season. I think some results haven't gone our way, it is frustrating when that happens. I think in every game we lost, there has been a lot of positives to come out of them.
“To get a win against Dublin University helps build momentum. The club has been great to me and I have enjoyed it. We just want to finish off the season well, obviously we have a massive game on Saturday March 23 against UCC. That has to be our focus now. We must move on to that now.”
So what lies ahead rugby wise for Mitchell who turns 25 later this year and is currently combining playing in the All-Ireland League with working as a barista at Cafe Verona in Dooradoyle?
“At the end of this season, I would love to go home for a bit of a holiday, see the family and that, I have had an awesome season and would love to be back here.
“I definitely haven't given up on the dream of being a professional rugby player. I want to have a big off season and try and put on a bit of size, get the body right and get stuck in again.
“I am still enrolled in college back in Australia. I am still trying to finish that off on-line. I am doing business, human resource management. I have just two subjects left to go, but I felt this was too good of an opportunity to pass up to come down here.
“Hopefully by the end of next year I will have it done finally.”