Cork rugby: Mintern won’t let run of bad luck deter him from professional dream
SINCE he was just five years of age, Blackrock’s Evan Mintern had dreamed of becoming a professional rugby player.
While a hamstring injury ensured a previous five-month trial at Munster didn’t go according to plan, his wish was seemingly granted when he signed terms with MLR outfit Rugby United New York (RUNY) last November.
However, his anticipated arrival in the Big Apple two months later was put on hold when his visa application was unexpectedly rejected.
Mintern and former Australian international Drew Mitchell were eventually given clearance a few weeks back, but by then the MLR had already decided to declare the 2020 league ‘null and void’.
As frustrating as this was for the Cork Constitution stalwart, he is eternally grateful to RUNY for supporting him throughout an arduous process.
“I planned on going over there for January 2 and I had presumed the visa was nearly done and dusted.
“It wasn’t a big deal at all. Then it dragged on longer and longer and longer. It kept going. I only found out mid-January I’d say that it was declined.
“Apparently we had a bad case officer and it was unfortunate,” Mintern recalls.
“That happened and I was disappointed for a week, but I got back onto my agent and I was thinking ‘look, there’s no point in being depressed over it. Get up, get back on the horse and keep going’.
“A week later James Kennedy, the owner of the club, gave me a call and he basically said ‘look, we think you can offer a lot to the club and we think we can get a lot of value out of you’.
“So they went for a different visa for me. They put a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of effort into it.”
Though New York is the epicentre of the Coronavirus pandemic in the US, Mintern remains committed to making the move to the east coast city.
Yet RUNY won’t taste competitive action again until January of next year, meaning the 24-year-old CBC Cork alum has to explore alternative avenues in a bid to maintain his match sharpness.
“The aim was that they wanted to get me active in some way in September. Back playing, back fit.
“Whether that be playing All-Ireland League for a couple of months or else there’s another option that I could go over and maybe play a bit of club rugby over there. So that I could settle in, get used to it.”
When he does finally link up with the Coney Island-based side, Mintern will find himself among some familiar faces and voices. Head coach Greg McWilliams and team manager Simon Gillespie are natives of Dublin and Donegal respectively, while nine Irish men are currently on the RUNY playing roster.
Remarkably, Mintern will become the fourth Leesider at the club with Paddy Ryan, James Rochford and long-time friend Jason Higgins already plying their trades there.
“I’ve known Jason since I was 12. I played with him in Con, I played with him in Christians. There’s another fella, James Rochford, I wouldn’t have played with him but I would have known him around Con U20s.
“He’d have played with my brother. Then Will Leonard, who’d be a year older than me, played with Shannon. I’d be familiar enough with him as well,” Mintern says.
“That would have made it a lot more appealing. It’d be easier to get over and settle in.
“They understand how it goes and they’d have made it a lot easier as well.”
Once Mintern makes his debut in New York, he will become the latest player from the Ireland U20s class of 2016 to make their mark in the professional game.
Having missed out on selection for that year’s Six Nations, he was added to the mix for the summertime World Championships in England.
It proved to be a groundbreaking tournament for Nigel Carolan’s charges as they backed up a shock pool victory against New Zealand by reaching the final against host nation England.
During this period, Mintern rubbed shoulders with Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Max Deegan and Jacob Stockdale, who subsequently pushed onto the senior international ranks. After his initial surprise at making the cut, he came to terms with being in exalted company.
“I wasn’t really on the Ireland U20 radar at all to be honest. I played a couple of Munster development games against the Irish U20s.
“I was lucky I played well in one and I played alright in the other one. Then Peter Claffey and Will Connors got injured, so I got a call.
“I hadn’t any involvement at all, so I went to one training camp the week before the World Cup.
“More than anything, I was looking around like ‘f***ing hell, how did I get here?’.
“After the shock set in, I started looking at fellas like James and Porter. I wouldn’t say admiring them, but their work ethic was off the wall.
“There hasn’t been a squad like that really in a long time. Whether it’s 7s or 15s, they’re all playing top level somewhere. I’d say I’m one of the few fellas who hasn’t gotten a contract in Ireland yet, but I had to go elsewhere.”
He may be heading off on the road less travelled, but Mintern appears to have all the necessary tools to make a lasting impact across the atlantic.