Mike Delany is a world class rugby fly-half who can also play fullback. Most of his friends call him Mullys. Mullys is a one-test All Black, played Super Rugby and national provincial level in New Zealand.
Mike has also played in the Japanese top level competition and the Top 14 in France. He is currently a player at the Newcastle falcons in the English premiership.
I have known Mullys for a number of years now. From playing against him in school boy Gilette Cup cricket (which he scored a half century) and working alongside him at the Bay of Plenty Steamers.
We caught up with the man himself during a break in his training…
I guess I am a veteran of the game now. I’ll be 35 in June and feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to play the game I love for such a long time. The game continues to get faster and the impacts are greater I can’t see careers lasting as long as they have done in the past.
My professional career started a little later than most so maybe that is why I’ve been able to play for as long as I have done. There are a lot of young guys who think that it’s over once they haven’t cracked it in their early 20’s. I feel it’s important to realise that many players mature into better rugby players at different stages and may have a better understanding of the game later on in their careers. The fact that I am a first five eight helps as we tend to stay out of as much contact as possible!
Rugby has helped with all aspects of life and probably much more than what rugby followers can see from the outside. Rugby has given me a lot over the years and has made me more resilient. It has given me the ability to cope with different pressures and adapt to different environments. In the past 7 years, I’ve played in NZ, Japan, France and England. All of these countries have different approaches and a different way of doing things.
I’ve learned to become more open minded about the way the game is played. For example, the game is played differently in each country. In the UK and France, you need to be more clinical and play for more territory. The game is much more structured. For example, it is not uncommon to scrum for a penalty or go to the lineout to force a penalty.
I was told many things when I was young when it came to Rugby. I was told I was too small to play professionally. There was this belief that a small boy from Rotorua wouldn’t make it and I needed to go to the big Rugby schools in Auckland if I wanted a chance. The funny thing is I never grew up wanting to play professionally. I just enjoyed playing most sports and thought I might play cricket or football ahead of Rugby. It wasn’t until that I was enjoying my club Rugby in Hamilton that I decided to give professional rugby a crack.
Injuries come hand and hand with being a rugby player and unfortunately, I’ve had a few of them. Off the top of my head, I’ve had a concussion, 2 shoulder operations, muscle tears, ankle sprains to name a few. It’s important to use injuries as an opportunity to become better in other areas of weakness.
With the hectic rugby calendars, it’s hard to find the time to improve in the gym or work on skills for example. I’ve always made sure I get the most out of the time I have out with an injury to concentrate on things I otherwise can’t. Injuries are by far the most frustrating part of being a rugby player. Staying positive and being thorough with rehabilitation is vital.
A good pre-hab program is key to keeping on top of managing niggles and ensuring that the chances of injury are prevented by regular sessions. (More on injury prevention here). As a kicker, I need to stay on top of this with the large amount of kicking I do. I have a good set of rollers and massage balls to get rid of any tightness I may feel pre and post training. For me being one of the smaller players it was important that I was doing all I could in the gym for strength and holding weight.
Although I would hate to say it ice baths do help you feel better the next day after a tough game. No one likes doing them but the older I’ve got the more I know how important it is to use them! I usually feel better by doing something active the next day and re fuel the body with good food.
When I made the All Blacks I felt that I was playing on instinct and not trying to overthink the game. I was putting a lot of work into the different skills as a ten. I was working hard on passing, kicking and outside of the training ground I had a better understanding of game management. This helped with decision making on the field. I knew I had to be much better defensively so started working hard on tackle technique. Since then I have really enjoyed that side of the game.
In the UK we do a lot of analysis on teams and players and we go into games with certainty about how to execute the game-plan and where there are opportunities. I think the Lions will find it difficult to do the same analysis on All Black players in Super Rugby as it is not as structured and often looks like organized chaos. There are patterns and structure in place with the Super teams but when you think you know their pattern of play the team can change and play a completely different style of rugby. The All Blacks are the best in the world at playing what is in front of them.
In New Zealand Rugby there is a common goal.
Every team in New Zealand shares the same goal of making the All Blacks the best. We share information, coaching philosophies, training insights and players. Whereas in Europe each team can have their own interests and can be a bit hush hush.
It will be a fantastic series, very physical and competitive but I think the All Blacks will be too good.
It’s something I’ve thought about a lot and I am looking forward to life after rugby. What will I do? Well, I am not exactly sure but I would love to get into coaching. Currently, I am working towards my Level 3 coaching certificate. I would ideally like to be involved with rugby in some form in the future.
I like the idea of being a skills coach for a team. However, every man and his dog would like to do that so you are lucky if you get the opportunity. After playing overseas for so long I still believe I have a few seasons left in me. Perhaps I could add some value as a player-coach back home.
A lot of work is being done in the game to help the transition away from Rugby. World Rugby and the player’s associations are getting the message out and really helping those that struggle. It is best to plan ahead and learn from the guys who have successfully retired from the game. Talking to your mates gives you ad better understanding of how they transitioned into something else. Rugby is not what defines us, it is just a game we once played and enjoyed.
Probably the freedom, the cruisy schedule and the camaraderie amongst the team and players. The good thing is that Rugby gives you life long mates. We learn to work hard when you have to. We face challenges throughout our career which makes us stronger people. As players, we develop a lot of transferrable skills that can help businesses outside of Rugby.