Scotland 7s star back ‘home’ in Ulster

Scotland Seven’s speed merchant Max McFarland has made his Glasgow Warriors debut back ‘home’ in Ireland – the place where he forged his prowess playing tip rugby on the sloping lawns of his family residence at Dunmore Gardens.

Max McFarland at Dunmore Gardens. Picture: submitted

The 26 year-old’s first outing for the Warriors in the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast may not have been the success he and his teammates sought, but he could at least take some comfort in his first visit home since last Christmas.

McFarland, whose blistering pace dazzled fans during the Rugby World Cup Sevens last year, qualifies to play for Scotland through his Glaswegian maternal grandfather.

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But his ancestral home at Dunmore Gardens in Co Donegal is where the foundations of his rugby pedigree were laid.

“On the front lawns of Dunmore we would have played tip rugby for hours when we were kids. It’s quite sloped so I’m sure it played a part in improving my fitness in the early days. It was always an advantage to play down the hill but from memory I found myself running up it most of the time – something that has probably helped me along the way,” he laughs.

The majestic country manor house, which dates from the 18th century, is today operated as a bed and breakfast, and exclusive weddings and corporate events venue by his family - all of whom are dyed in the wool rugby fans.

The wedding venue is operated by McFarland’s sister, Amelia who also plays with exceptional pace on the wing for her local rugby club, City of Derry RFC in Northern Ireland.

McFarland’s great grandfather, Sir Basil McFarland, was capped for Ireland on four occasions between 1920 and 1922. He played for City of Derry RFC and North of Ireland FC. Sir Basil’s only son, Sir John McFarland, followed in his father’s footsteps while his son Anthony McFarland lined out for TCD, Ireland Students and London Irish.

At 5 ft 9in, McFarland is somewhat diminutive in rugby circles and his career, or at least his self-esteem, was dealt a momentary blow when he was told he was “too short” for professional rugby while playing in Leinster’s under age set-up.

“Everything was going so well for me at Leinster. I was recognised as one of the top wingers in my age group in the Leinster set up - right through the under 18’s 19’s and 20’s. As we approached Junior World preparations, the Ireland 20’s coach rang me up and said: ‘you’re not physical enough for the professional game, you’re going to be too small, you won’t find a career in professional rugby’.

“For me that has been a great driver in my professional career, it has pushed me forward, although, I must admit, it wasn’t great to hear at the time. It was a tough blow.

“I left Ireland and made my way back into professional rugby through sevens. My mother’s father was always a proud Scotsman and when the chance game to play for Scotland, I jumped at the chance. The Scottish connection has always played a big part in our lives and it was great to get the call.

“I’m really enjoying the game right now with Scotland Sevens and have just completed a great pre-season with Glasgow Warriors, so I’m looking to push on from here.

“Although the friendly result against Ulster was disappointing, it was great to take to the pitch for the Warriors. The game may not have gone our way, but there were some good points to take from the performance. It was some consolation to see my family who all came to watch my debut at the Kingspan Stadium. The weekend before the game, I had a chance to visit them all at Dunmore in Carrigans, Co Donegal – my first trip home since Christmas.

“The strong Scottish connection with the area is very apparent - in fact there’s an Ulster Scots Museum just down the road from Dunmore. One in three people who visit the wedding venue at Dunmore are from Scotland many of whom have family connections in the area.”