Former Irish U20 Ciarán Gaffney is making his mark in Italy after being snapped up during the summer by Michael Bradley at Zebre, writes John Fallon.
The 22-year old, a product of the Connacht academy, found his career at a crossroads when his contract came up for renewal at the Sportsground earlier this year and after a brief stint in New Zealand, the call to Parma came from Bradley.
Gaffney, a versatile back three player, has made ten appearances this season for resurgent Zebre, the latest coming on Saturday when he came off the bench as they defeated his old side, Connacht, 24-10.
“I was getting a bit frustrated at Connacht. I was down the pecking order there so it was Nigel Carolan that recommended me to go down to New Zealand and get a bit of experience down there.
“The season was just starting there. I had a coaching contact there through Corey Brown who used to be with Galwegians and Connacht. He is actually with the Highlanders now.
“I got set up with a club down there and played the club season. I was playing for a club team in Dunedin and was then playing in the warm-up games for Otago in the Mitre 10 Cup team.
“It was coming into the competitive side of things with the Mitre 10 Cup and then I got the offer from Zebre to come to Italy.
Competition is keen at Zebre — they had nine in the Italy squad for the autumn internationals — but Gaffney has featured in eight of their ten PRO14 games and also played against Pau and Agen in the European Challenge Cup.
He is delighted to be part of the resurgence under former Connacht coach Bradley at Zebre and has settled in well in Parma.
“It’s great, all the Italian boys are really welcoming. A lot of them speak good English.
“Obviously, the first few weeks the language was a bit of a barrier, but I’m picking it up. I studied French in school so that has definitely stood to me there are a lot of similarities.
“The one thing that is holding us back in the last month or two is the depth, we picked up a few injuries here and there and that’s what holding us back, especially in the second row. We are down to our last two, but it’s good to see the two boys back now and you can see the difference they make,” added Gaffney.