AJ MacGinty and a Pat Lam promise from that was kept, six years on
"I’ll come back and get him. Wherever I am, I’ll come get him."
Back in 2016, as Connacht were on their way to a memorable PRO12 league triumph, Pat Lam spoke of the promise he made to AJ MacGinty.
The Dubliner had made a name for himself, in his early 20s, with New York Athletic Club and in university rugby. Given the time he had spent in the United States, he was eligible to play Test rugby for the US Eagles. He made his international debut in July 2015 and featured in that year's World Cup, before pitching up at Connacht.
MacGinty would play 17 times for Connacht in that unforgettable 2015/16 season, and start in the 10 jersey for wins over Munster (away), Leinster (home) and both the semi-final win over Glasgow and the final victory over Leinster.
At that stage, Connacht were already resigned to MacGinty moving on as he was not an 'Irish' player. Sale Sharks swooped in, but not before Pat Lam made his outhalf a promise. He told reporters:
"I've already told him he can sign for two years and I'll come back and get him, wherever I am, I'll come get him."
It may have taken six years, but Lam, now director of rugby with Bristol Bears, was true to his word. During our visit to the Bears' High Performance Centre, for our 'A Season With... ' series, AJ MacGinty spoke about reuniting with Lam, and targeting silverware with his new club.
AJ MacGinty on Pat Lam and his Bristol move
The outhalf has featured off the bench in Bristol's opening two Premiership victories, after joining up with his new teammates late in pre-season due to his Test commitments with the USA.
On that Pat Lam promise, AJ MacGinty tells us, "Yeah, it has been six years but it feels like time has flown by. Six years with Sale then coming down here.
"I feel like I'm still finding my feet, at the moment. I came in a bit later in the summer and went straight into pre-season and settling my family in. I'm enjoying it, and getting to know the lads has been good."
"Over the years," he adds, "Pat has stayed in touch, to see how I'm doing and getting on. He was seeing what my plan for the next year was, or the contract situation. On my time in Sale, I had six years there and really enjoyed it so much. I met some great people up there and had a lot of good friendships, but I felt it was time for a change. My contract situation had opened up and Bristol were interested, so I chatted to Pat.
"I had a discussion with my brother, who is my agent, and my wife, before deciding to pull the trigger and go for it. I'm really happy being here and excited for what is ahead."
MacGinty's first season as a professional player was under Lam, at Connacht. "It was everything I expected it to be, and more," he says. "John Muldoon, who is a coach here now, was the captain, and the senior players led a lot of it.
"The first thing I noticed was that passion for the game. That, from Pat, and his mindset is probably unlike anyone I've worked with before.
"That attack focus, and the focus on mastering the basics and those core skills. It is stuff you'd be teaching kids from a young age but he is very detailed on that, and how it fits into the style you want to play. His commitment to getting the best out of people, and his passion for the game, and the big things that stand out."
Bristol finished third and first in the regular season Premiership standings, in 2020 and 2021, but lost in two league semi-finals and slipped to 10th, last season. MacGinty and Ellis Genge, Magnus Bradbury and Gabriel Ibitoye were the big summer acquisitions and Bears have started the new campaign well.
"Listen," says MacGinty, "everyone that is here wants to win a trophy, and the most success they can have in their career. From my experience in playing in the league and knowing how hard it is, you now you've got to just focus on the games and hand and put in that work, day to day, if you want to get there."