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Ulster Academy forward Agnew reveals huge sacrifices needed to make rugby grade


Hot seat: Matty Agnew is relishing the challenge of carving out a career in professional rugby
Hot seat: Matty Agnew is relishing the challenge of carving out a career in professional rugby
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

Behind every good sportsman are the sacrifices they've made to get to where they are, but few have sacrificed more than Matty Agnew.

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The Bangor man has just been inducted into the Abbey Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy, but in order to take that place he's had to leave behind what was a promising academic career.

A straight-A student out of Bangor Grammar, Agnew could have had his choice of university to further his studies. But, instead, he opted to take his place in Ulster's sub-Academy programme last year, with the hope of graduating this year.

But he had to put the hard graft in first.

His parents were adamant that if he was to make it in the pro game then he would have to do it himself - that meant, without a lift to training, he would cycle early every morning to the train station to get to Belfast and then cycle to the Academy base at Newforge Country Club, before doing the reverse to get home.

"My mum's a stubborn woman!" Agnew laughs. "She was determined that if I was to play rugby I'd make my own way, and I have a little brother as well so he needed minded.

"I left school last year and was offered a place in the sub-Academy, so I said I'd give it a go here and hopefully get into the Academy, and it went well."

It's fair to say the gamble paid off. The 19-year-old has been promoted to the Academy for this season and has a year with the Ireland Under-20s already under his belt, with another surely to follow in this year's campaign.

He's not cycling to training any more having moved in with fellow Academy back row Joe Dunleavy just off the Cregagh Road, and at the moment he's put his education on hold to concentrate on his rugby, but the hard working mentality is still there.

Agnew knows what he could have done with his life. But he's more than happy with the decision he's made and, after what he describes as an essential year in the sub-Academy, he's ready to make his mark at a higher level.

"On the back of the sub-Academy, it was definitely a good year for physical development and things like that, and I hope to carry that on going into the professional game," he says.

"You don't need to be a certain weight, you just need to be able to cope with the physicality, so I'd like to continue that in the Academy. Continue to improve my basic skills and just enjoy it.

"I've really enjoyed my time in the All-Ireland League with club rugby and things like that, I hope to do the same (this year) and push on, hopefully get involved with the A's a lot at the start of the year if I can and see where that leads me in the senior team based on who's fit.

"You never know, it just depends on injuries. Hopefully this season will go as well as last in terms of injuries and hopefully I push on."

As a first year Academy player, the expectation won't be for Agnew to make his presence felt in the senior squad immediately, however he'll not be sitting back and letting others get chances he wants himself.

And the Malone clubman believes Ulster fans will begin to see exactly what he can do now that he's moved up into the Academy for the new season.

"I do enjoy (the professional set-up)," he smiles. "There are times where it is stressful, physically and mentally, but it's something I enjoy and you have to be in a pressured environment as a rugby player.

"I was at Bangor Grammar, it was a great school, but I think I thrive more in the professional environment.

"What we're doing here, this is as professional as it gets really. I was well prepared at Under-18s, 19s, 20s, they prepared me well for it and so I feel I can cope with it, and I really enjoy it.

"The reality is all the lads want to play professional rugby, so all we're doing is preparing for the professional environment, and that separates those who really want it and those who don't."

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