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Ever Gonna Leave Old Durham Town ?

10th January 2008 By Munster Rugby

Ever Gonna Leave Old Durham Town ?

He was capped five times by Ireland – on the wing against Australia, Italy France and Wales in 1996/97 and once at full-back against Canada in June 2000. His international pedigree saw him win Triple Crowns with the Ireland U21s and at A level and he also represented Ireland Students and Ireland Universities. He played for Ireland in the Peace International against the Barbarians at Lansdowne Road.

But Munster folk will remember Dominic Crotty more for his exploits in the red jersey that he wore, with such distinction, at full-back and on the wing between 1992 and 2004 In all, he represented Munster in 91 competitive games before opting for a new lifestyle.

 He was of course full-back that famous day in Stade Chaban Delmas Bordeaux when Toulouse were put to the sword and was in the Millennium again in the number 15 jersey when the title was denied them by Leicester Tigers. In between times he was full back for Munster in the inaugural Celtic League final and missed their triumph in that competition a year later through injury. In 2006 he was back in Cardiff, this time in his civvies, to share in the joy of Heineken Cup success.

 He married Karen O’Leary from Bandon and when he retired in ’04 he took himself and Karen and infant baby James to the United States, to Durham, North Carolina to pursue a PhD. in Biomedical Engineering at Duke University.

It’s not the Durham town that Roger Whittaker signs about, rather Durham in North Carolina, a state that is regarded as the home of golf, the most familiar course to Irish people being Pinehurst – where the 2005 US Open was held – located in Moore County which is home to 50 golf courses.
Durham itself is an old tobacco town, four hours drive southwest of Washington DC and three hours drive from the Atlantic coast. With a population of 250,000, It’s part of what’s termed the Triangle area of North Carolina – the other towns being Chapel Hill (pop. 50,000) and state capital, Raleigh (370,000).

The Triangle area is home to many famous universities and medical centers (Duke University and Duke University Medical Center, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and UNC Medical Center and NC State University) and, because of this, the area punches well above its weight by being home to the Research Triangle Park where some of the most innovative and cutting-edge research-oriented companies in the world are based.
The Research Triangle Park covers 7,000 acres and has 157 companies employing 39,000 people within it’s 5 mile radius.
A graduate student researcher Crotty is involved in designing an imaging device to detect breast cancer at an earlier stage than is currently possible with standard techniques (like mammography). He hopes to receive his doctorate sometime in 2009.

Life in Durham is good for the Crottys. The arrival of baby Niamh eighteen months ago and Karen’s recent return to Academia to complete a Master’s in Public Health Leadership at University of North Carolina ensures a hectic lifestyle and one far removed from that of a professional rugby player, “Ah yes,” he says with a laugh, “the life I have now is a million miles away from what life used to be back in my professional rugby days with Munster.
“My work week is taken up with designing and conducting imaging studies, writing papers, grant proposals and the other joys of graduate work. With Karen back studying and  two small kids as well, you can see that the days of training twice a day and sleeping in the afternoons are a distant dream.”

 “Duke is a great university,” enthuses Crotty, ” with exciting research being done in many areas and there’s a real entrepreneurial spirit around campus – typical of the U.S., it’s very much a can-do attitude.

“The weather is brilliant all year round, the only problem is staying cool in summer and out of the 100F° sunshine. In Durham there’s the same level of obsession with college basketball as there is in Limerick with local rugby teams or in Cork with hurling. Similar to home, people are really friendly and the pace of life is a lot slower here than up in cities like New York or Chicago.”

If there is a downside in Durham, it’s “that there’s nowhere near the same sense of identity or ties that exist at home with your locality, but that’s typical of the US, it’s such a melting pot of nationalities and backgrounds. It’s one of the things that I really miss about home, ” he confesses.

When he does get the time, he keeps himself fit by running, cycling and by playing a bit of tennis and working out at the local gym.  Not surprisingly he hasn’t much time for that activity right now yet has asked that Declan Kidney be aware that ”  I’m always available for a run out if every other fullback in the world is injured.”
His involvement with rugby and matters Munster are reliant he says on media. ” Right now I’m not involved in rugby, though I did some coaching with the local team a while back. The two-hour round trip to the clubhouse makes it impossible for me to coach or play regularly.
“Setanta TV has been a godsend for me and I’m able to keep up to date with all the Magners League and European Cup games. The sports pages and munsterrugby.ie are my other lifelines to find out how things are going with the team at home.  I also keep a sharp eye out for  my other rugby loves. Garryowen and UCC.”

Dominic and Karen were back in Ireland for Killian Keane’s wedding and prior to that he made the trip to Cardiff in 2006 for the Heineken Cup final. “That really was an amazing experience. Wasn’t easy for me to get there for loads of reasons. I don’t think any Munster supporter will ever forget that day and being in the stadium to see Axel lift the trophy was incredible.

“It was a really emotional day for anyone involved in Munster rugby, and bittersweet for many of us involved in the two previous finals. Meeting all the squad the day before at the Millennium Stadium was a brilliant experience and being able to get into the dressing-room to see the lads having won the cup was special.”

And so are there aspects of the old life he misses ?  “I miss so many aspects of rugby in a big way.  I feel as passionate about it now as I ever did back while I was playing. It was an incredible feeling to grow up playing rugby in Cork with all the rivalries between teams there and in Limerick and then have the chance to represent your city and your province on a competitive international stage.

“Being able to do what I did was a huge honour and a dream come through for me and I’m thankful for the chances I was given, even more so looking back at it from where I am now. 

“I really miss the lads that were on the squad while I played and especially the craic at training, even when we were beating lumps out of each other and people were going for the same positions.  I miss the buzz of matchday and games at Thomond Park and, of course, the fans that were always the backbone of the team. I really miss competing on the pitch and the day in day out effort for the cause. It’s impossible to adequately put it into words and it’s as impossible to describe the intensity of the feeling in the dressingroom before big games and the feelings that came from winning and losing – you really had to have experienced it to get a clearer idea.

“I feel very lucky to have played with all the guys I did like Gallaimh, John Langford, Claw, Frankie, Marcus, John O’Neill, Jeremy Staunton, Colm McMahon, John Hayes, Wally, Quinnie, Axel, Leams, ROG, Strings, Killian Keane, Dutchy Holland, Mikey Mullins, Jimmy Williams, Shaun Payne, Hoggie, John Kelly, Donncha O’Callaghan and Paul O’Connell – the list could be twice as long as that.

I’ve shared the pitch and pulled on the same jersey as some of the greatest players ever to play in the red and I’m really thankful for that. I haven’t even spoken about the incredible backroom staff I played under from rugby and fitness coaches to the support of physios and admin staff – it really was a special time for me and for Munster rugby and it’s part of who I am today.

“If or when we get back to Ireland in a few years, I really hope to get involved in rugby at some level of coaching or administration since rugby is a sport unlike any other.  Once you’ve lived here and seen sport on this side of the Atlantic, you’ll appreciate how special Irish sport and Munster rugby really are.”

He’s also very optimistic about Munster’s future. “It looks like Deccie has brought a great bunch of new and young faces together this season and is still squeezing still more drops of vintage wine from the Peter Pans, Axel and Shaun Payne. Great to see people like Brian Carney and now Doug Howlett in the squad.

“Then there’s the next crop of quality coming through in some of the really impressive young lads like Keith Earls, the Hurley’s Denis Fogarty and Donnacha Ryan, though I hate spotlighting a few amongst the many good young players we must have in the squad.

“I have to pay special tribute to John Kelly seeing as he recently retired. Other players have had bad days for Munster, but I honestly can not remember JK ever having had a poor game in all my time there. In whatever position he played in, he was always a rock of stability and delivered in spades, a uniquely brilliant player.

“Overall so far, the team has been great this season and it’s great to see us really pushing our skills a bit more out wide, compared to recent seasons.

“It’s amazing to think that guys who I thought would always be young, Wally, Rog, Quinny are now in their 30’s! They and others in the squad are and will be remembered as the best players of their generation, bar none.”

And from the warmth of North Carolina, one of Munster truly great professionals offers this advice.
“It’s a cliché but enjoy what you’re doing while you have the chance, it’s not all bad on the far side of pro rugby but it’s nowhere near as much fun either.”




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