Irish luck leads Conor Hickey to Shute Shield Rookie of the Year award

CONOR HICKEY, the Narrabeen Tigers junior, who represented Australia in touch football as a teenager, made his Shute Shield debut for the Rats against Manly in a local derby at Rat Park in 2021.

After breaking into first grade last season, Hickey, whose father is Irish, was invited to play with an Irish invitational Sevens team at a Dubai tournament last summer.

In Dubai, we caught the eye of talent scouts at Ulster in Belfast and was invited to Northern Ireland on a train and trial contract late last year.

The young flyhalf could barely believe his luck.

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“It all happened pretty quickly and it was a pretty cool experience. Out of nowhere, I was training in a fully professional set up at Ulster, training eight hours a day with teammates who were Irish internationals,” Hickey told Rugby News.

“It was a big eye opener and probably helped me realise how much work I needed to do off the field to perform well on it.

“Ian Madigan was really good to me. He has played at a World Cup and has over 30 international caps for Ireland. He took me out for a lot of one on one sessions and helped me work really hard on the technical elements of my game.”

After impressing in his first few weeks at Ulster, the club sent Hickey back to Australia to pack his bags and return to Ireland for the remainder of the season.

But then the delta strain of Covid hit and rugby in Northern Ireland hit the pause button. Hickey was unable to get back to the UK and soon turned his attention to Warringah’s 2022 Shute Shield campaign.

“I was pretty disappointed at first but I really just wanted to play footy and fortunately the season in Sydney was not far off starting,” he said.

“During colts, I’d been playing more fullback than flyhalf but when I got back from Ireland, Rivo told me he wanted me to focus on playing No.10 to try and make the most of my background playing touch footy.

“He put a lot of faith in me and that gave me a lot of confidence which really helped throughout the season.”

Hickey starred in his first full season in the Rats’ No.10 jersey and led Warringah to a finals campaign that ended with last week’s disappointing loss to Gordon.

He was awarded the Rookie of the Year award at the Ken
Catchpole Medal earlier this month.

“Obviously I would have preferred to go a bit further with Warringah, but the award is a pretty special personal achievement and I think I’ll look back on this season pretty fondly, despite the finish.

“Beating Manly at Manly Oval on Derby Day was pretty special. We were in a bit of a form slump and had just lost a few games that we probably shouldn’t have. Manly were on top of the ladder and playing really well and we turned up and gave it to them.

“Every game this year was special though. Getting to play in front of the Rat Park crowd, I had to pinch myself quite a bit this year because it’s something I grew up wanting to do.

“I watched guys like Seb Wileman and Tyson Davies win the Shute Shield in 2017 and then play in grand finals in 2018 and 2019 and it was pretty cool to get to play alongside those guys that I looked up to while I was playing juniors and in colts. It’s something I definitely want to do a lot more of.”

Hickey said there may be an opportunity to return to Ireland over the Australian summer but nothing was set in stone just yet.

“I really just want to keep playing rugby and I’m pretty gutted that our season ended so abruptly. If there’s an opportunity in Ireland, I’d be pretty keen to take it and then come back to play Shute Shield next year and try and win a premiership with the Ratties.”

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