“I LOVE playing for London Irish. It means the world to me. It’s a hell of a club.”
You could say Declan Danaher is looking forward to his tenure as Exiles captain, but that would be understating the fact.
Thirteen years with the club, his dad from Kerry and mum from Limerick, an upbringing in Cricklewood and Dollis Hill during which time he played Gaelic football from infancy for Kerry Gaels – Danaher is steeped in all things London Irish.
The 32-year old is Irish’s longest serving player. He’s seen highs and lows since the tail end of the last century, when he came through the Exiles’ youth system.
Danaher is proud to have played with men like Steve Bachop, Justin Bishop and Conor O’Shea. They linked the amateur era to professionalism and “made us aware of what it meant to play for London Irish,” he says.
Making the next generation of highly-rated young players aware of the legacy they inherit is one of Danaher’s priorities. He is proud to have served previous captains like Bob Casey, Mike Catt and Seilala Mapusua. As skipper, he will assimilate some of their qualities but Danaher is determined to do things in his own inimitable style.
His own style involves “leading from the front, I’m not scared to get stuck in. If I can instill that in younger players I’ll be doing my job.”
The leadership responsibilities won’t rest solely on Danaher’s shoulders. He will work with a “senior leadership group”. They comprise: Alex Corbisiero, David Paice, Bryn Evans, Tomás O’Leary, Ian Humphreys and Shane Geraghty. All six players, along with Danaher, will take responsibility for their area of the game. Corbisiero and Paice will run the scrum, Evans the lineout, Danaher and O’Leary will organise defence and Humphreys and Geraghty will control the attack.
Danaher is reluctant to set goals for the season ahead, citing the first game against Saracens on September 1 in Twickenham as the sole focus. But he adds: “Smithy [Brian] is a competitive guy. If it’s a game of marbles, he wants to win. We’re going to be competitive no matter what game or competition we’re playing in. We’re going to go hell for leather. If we get beaten, it won’t be for lack of effort.
“We want to play expansive rugby. Lots of teams don’t see a ball until August but we’ve been having competitive games in training from week one, and we’re into our fifth week [of pre-season].”
In his 13th pre-season, it doesn’t get any easier on the bones and joints but Danaher is not complaining.
“It’s been tough, but it’s supposed to be tough. I’m feeling good,” says Danaher, who has made 242 appearances for London Irish, scoring 21 tries.
“Seeing the likes of Quins and Sarries doing well drives me on more. I haven’t got long left so that drives me on to fulfil the possibilities. This is a massive club and we want to win.
“During my time there’s always been players to look up to. Now I’m the longest serving here. There comes the time when you have to put your hand up.”