It’s been a remarkable journey for Tadhg Beirne from pizza delivery man to Lions Test winner, via Llandovery and the Scarlets.
Five years ago, he was facing an uncertain future, struggling to make an impression with Leinster and considering packing it in to take up a career in real estate.
But then he was handed a lifeline by the Scarlets and he grabbed it.
Initially getting game-time with Llandovery – alongside fellow Lion Wyn Jones – he went on to become a star performer for the west Wales region, helping them win the 2017 PRO12 title.
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His desire to play international rugby saw him return home the following year, linking up with Munster, and it paid off.
He now has 22 Ireland caps to his name, at lock or blindside flank, with his outstanding Six Nations campaign seeing him selected for this summer’s Lions tour of South Africa.
And, last Saturday, he came off the bench to help secure a 22-17 victory over the Springboks in the first Test at the Cape Town Stadium.
He has been talking about his career path to former England World Cup winner Will Greenwood on the Sky Sports podcast.
While with Leinster, Beirne was coaching at Blackrock College, making ends meet by delivering pizza.
“I needed to make some cash on the side,” he explained.
“The big break came in Scarlets.
“They needed a training player and I just took a punt and said maybe I’ll get a chance to play in one or two games and prove myself.
“There was a lot of hesitation.
“In my last year with Leinster, when I was doing the pizzas and coaching, I was studying a Masters in real estate as well.
“I had to take the decision whether I would finish the Masters or take the punt with the Scarlets.
“I didn’t have much time to make the decision. There were one or two sleepless nights on what to do because it was a big risk giving up the Masters.
“I had paid for half of it already and only had a year left in it and that was going to be my job.
“I spoke to my parents and they had different views. My mum was a bit unsure over whether I should do it or not.
“She was a bit sick of seeing the continuous highs and lows of will I, won’t I be in the squad, the constant injuries.
“There’s a lot of lows that go with it. I had a lot of injuries in my four or five years with Leinster. I was out for 14 months with my groin.
“There were a lot of days there where it was pretty low. I remember having conversations with some of my mates where I was talking about being close to packing it in. There was no light at the end of the tunnel.
“There are days where you lock yourself in the room and question have you just wasted the last few years of putting everything, your heart and soul, into trying to become a rugby player and then all of a sudden you are constantly injured.
“I think most rugby players will have those moments in their career. Those dark days are part of the sport.
“I wasn’t getting selected a lot.
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“I lived at home for my last year as well, so they probably saw a lot more of the mood swings than they usually would.
“So my mum would have probably been happier if I’d stayed on with the Masters.
“But between ourselves and my dad, they eventually gave me that little bit of a push if you really want to have one more crack at it.”
That final crack certainly proved worthwhile. After two memorable years with the Scarlets under Wayne Pivac, Beirne made the move to Munster in 2018.
“It was an opportunity to play for my country, so I couldn’t really turn it down,” he said.
“I wished at the time I could have stayed at the Scarlets and played for Ireland because I was loving my time there.
“But I absolutely love it at Munster as well.”
His first Ireland cap came pretty much as soon as he returned home, but it was last season he really made his breakthrough, establishing himself as a regular Test starter.
His superb Six Nations form saw him receive the call from the Lions, which has brought him under the captaincy of Alun Wyn Jones.
“Alun Wyn is an incredible leader,” said the 29-year-old.
“It’s his work ethic that shocked me the most.
“He’s incredibly energetic, one of the toughest trainers out there.
“Everyone questions his age all the time, but you certainly wouldn’t pick him out of the pack for being the oldest in the squad. You would probably pick him for being one of the youngest with the way he trains and gets about his work.
“That’s been incredibly impressive, seeing how he goes about his business. He is just a true professional and a great leader.”
Tadhg Beirne on the charge for the Scarlets against his former team Leinster in May 2018
(Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency)
Named on the bench for the first Test, Beirne came on as a replacement for Courtney Lawes on the blindside flank eight minutes from time, immediately winning a lineout and then sharing in a heroic rearguard action during the nerve-jangling final play.
“It was an incredible team effort, with complete trust in every man beside each other to do a job,” he said.
“We have worked hard on our defence the last few weeks and it’s in moments like that it really matters.
“We stayed on our feet, we drove them backwards, we slowed down their ball to give lads time to get set and get off the line.
“It was just a great defensive set and credit to Maro (Itoje) for getting the rip at the death. It was a huge moment. It’s incredibly tough to win a Lions Test.”
Beirne is among the subs once again this weekend in Cape Town and hoping to play his part in a series-clinching triumph.
“It would be good to just have some kind of impact in the game and hopefully come away with the win,” he said.
“We would love to put the series away this weekend. That would be incredible. We are certainly confident we can do it again and fingers crossed we can.”
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