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Friday 22 August 2014

Leinster's uncapped riches

With Healy and Sexton poised for international recognition, Hugh Farrelly selects the best of those who never made the breakthrough

Hugh Farrelly

Published 20/05/2009 | 00:00

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Jonny Sexton’s 'uncapped' status may be temporary but, right from top, Liam Toland, Emmet Farrell and Martin Ridge never made the step up from Leinster to Ireland

WITH Michael Cheika's only selection quandary appearing to be whether to re-introduce Rob Kearney to the back three, there will probably be only two uncapped players on the Leinster team to face Leicester in the Heineken Cup final on Saturday.

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After his performance off the bench in the semi-final win over Munster, Jonathan Sexton looks guaranteed to start at out-half while Cian Healy has enjoyed a stupendous season at loose-head prop. Sexton is seemingly earmarked as Ronan O'Gara's successor in the Ireland No 10 jersey, while many believe Healy has already surpassed Munster's Marcus Horan as the country's premier loose-head.

The Leinster duo would have been near certainties to play in Saturday's Test with Canada were it not for their final commitments but their 'uncapped' status is temporary. It makes one think of the other Leinster players, now retired, who never made the breakthrough to senior international level. It is a tough team to pick because, until the late 1990s, the provinces played only three to four matches a year and were generally composed of international players.

Thus, some of these selections are based largely on performances for club rather than province while others, such as hookers Mark McDermott and Billy Mulcahy, were discounted because they made their representative names with other provinces.

Furthermore, while Leinster rugby dates back to the 1800s, for the purposes of this side it seemed prudent to limit selection to a time period of 1980 and beyond. Some of those included, such as Steve Jameson, were blatantly worthy of international elevation but it is important to stress that this is not a 'should have been capped' XV.

As for Healy and Sexton, retirement is a long way off but, when they do hang up their boots, they are two Leinster men unlikely to be eligible for an uncapped XV of any description.

LEINSTER UNCAPPED XV (1980 -- )

FULL-BACK

David Beggy (Blackrock)

More famous for his All-Ireland-winning exploits with Sean Boylan's Meath, 'Jinxy' was an excellent rugby player who starred on the wing and at full-back for Blackrock and Leinster in the early 1990s. His pace and footballing ability made him a constant threat.

RIGHT WING

Marcus Dillon (Lansdowne)

The 'what might have been' story from the 1990s. Imploded on Ireland's Development Tour of New Zealand in 1997 under the unsympathetic stewardship of Brian Ashton. With the right care, the Lansdowne wing could have been something truly special. Scarily quick.

OUTSIDE CENTRE

Martin Ridge (Blackrock)

Ridge was a mainstay of Irish representative teams in the 1990s, making senior tours to New Zealand in 1992 and Australia in 1994. Ultra-physical, 'Trigger' was defined by his tackling with his kamikaze hit on Leicester's Will Greenwood in 1997 getting a fair bit of airplay this week.

INSIDE CENTRE

Paul Clinch (Lansdowne)

The Trinity and Lansdowne centre carried a proud Irish rugby name but, despite an excellent all-round game, did not emulate the Ireland achievements of his forbears Andrew and James 'Jammie' Clinch. Lacked a yard of pace but very similar in style to Leicester and England's Paul Dodge and had a considerable on-field presence. Was on Ireland's successful but uncapped tour to France in 1988.

LEFT WING

Peter Purcell (Lansdowne)

Pure pace and finishing ability, Purcell benefited from playing with a powerful Lansdowne team in the late 1980s that liked to throw the ball around. Like Clinch, Purcell played in the unofficial Test against France in 1988 when Ireland defeated a French XV 19-18 in Auch.

OUT-HALF

Emmet Farrell (Blackrock)

His display for Ireland 'A' against England 'A' in 2000 at Franklin's Gardens showed what Farrell was capable of but, like club-mates Barry Gibney and Ciaran Scally, this was a rich talent ruined by injury. After making the Leinster team in the late 1990s, Farrell looked like the solution to their out-half problems before knee trouble got in the way. He now works as technical assistant/video analyst to the Leinster team. Honourable mentions to Greg Dilger and Fergal Campion.

SCRUM-HALF

Barry O'Connor (Palmerstown)

With Robbie McGrath, Tony Doyle, Fergus Aherne and Alain Rolland dominating the No 9 jersey through the 1980s and early 1990s, uncapped options are thin on the ground. However, O'Connor was a classy, skilful and highly regarded scrum-half who played for Ireland 'B' in 1980. Sammy Lyons, the physically imposing Old Belvedere man, merits a mention, but O'Connor just shades it.

LOOSE-HEAD PROP

Tom Kavanagh (Bective Rangers)

Cian Healy looks destined to follow in the footsteps of Old Wesley's Phil Orr -- who monopolised the Leinster and Ireland loose-head jersey in the 1970s and '80s. However, while Orr was the undisputed No 1, Tom 'Titch' Kavanagh, the big, abrasive Bective prop, was a fine loose-head and good enough to play for the Ireland 'B' team behind Orr.

HOOKER

Willie Burns (Lansdowne)

With the likes of Harry Harbison and Johnny Murphy on the scene, Burns had stiff competition at Leinster but made his mark through technical excellence and exuberance around the park. Mark McDermott deserves mention but the shadow of Shane Byrne forced him to switch to Shannon and Munster while Noel Kearney was a tough customer who made his mark in the 1980s as part of formidable Old Wesley pack.

TIGHT-HEAD PROP

Derek Dowling (St Mary's)

A former Ireland Schools star in a team that included Terry Kingston, Neil Francis and Brendan Mullin, 'Babs' Dowling went on to become a mainstay of the St Mary's and Leinster scrum, although he had to do his time behind Lansdowne's Des Fitzgerald. Was a hard man to shift.

SECOND-ROW

Steve Jameson (St Mary's, capt)

A Leinster stalwart who was desperately unlucky to miss out on a cap. If Jameson had come along a few years earlier, he might have got the nod, considering the one-off honours afforded to the likes of Mick Moylett and Richard Costello. The barrel-chested St Mary's man was a natural rallying figure, a powerhouse in the engine room and security guaranteed at two in the line-out.

SECOND-ROW

Mick O'Neill (Blackrock)

Honourable nods to 'Downe duo John Collins and pre-lifting lineout expert Paul 'Moly' O'Connor. O'Neill was a tough, rangy Kilkenny man who could be relied upon to win his own ball and impose himself around the park.

BLINDSIDE FLANKER

Chris Pim (Old Wesley)

Like Jameson in the second-row, Pim is a shoo-in for the No 6 slot. Big and destructive, if you were hit by the Old Wesley man, you knew all about it. Unable to make the breakthrough internationally with so many quality back-rows on the scene but Pim never let Leinster down.

OPENSIDE FLANKER

Liam Toland (Lansdowne)

A schools star out of St Clement's in Limerick, Toland played his early representative rugby with Munster, but the best period of his career came after the switch to Lansdowne and Leinster. An army man, Toland brought supreme fitness and leadership to any team he lined out for and was a popular Leinster captain. Played many times for Ireland's A side but was worth a full cap -- particularly when you consider that Dylan O'Grady got one. Who? Exactly.

NUMBER EIGHT

Declan Fanning (St Mary's)

Dean Oswald was a huge influence for Blackrock and Leinster in the mid-1990s but his Kiwi background rules him out. Fanning, a superb footballer and natural leader, was equally influential for Mary's and Leinster in the 1980s and had earned his shot in 1983/84 but had to make do with the Ireland 'B' captaincy.

hfarrelly@independent.ie

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