Saturday 21 October 2017

Cutting edge runs in the family for bright prospect

Young scrum-half inspired after watching his father and brother play on same Monivea team

Caolin Blade is delighted to have been offered a development contract (Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE)
Caolin Blade is delighted to have been offered a development contract (Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE)

Daragh Small

When your father is edging towards 50 and your older brother joins him on the very same rugby team it's safe to say you will be called upon to play your part too at some stage.

The Blade family are cornerstones of Monivea RFC and Caolin, the youngest of three brothers, has progressed quickly.

He now finds himself at the Sportsground as a 20-year-old with a fresh two-year development contract and seven appearances for Connacht, scoring two tries on a wonderful night in Bayonne.

But it all began in Monivea's Castle Grounds, just outside Athenry, where a young sports fanatic was trying his hand at every available sport.

"My dad Pat played rugby until he was nearly 45 and he was probably the main reason that I started playing rugby so young," says Blade.

"He got me in there straight away, and my two brothers Darren and Eoin were playing as well so that was my inspiration growing up.

"We all played rugby, football, boxing and everything. I started into GAA when I was around 11 or 12 in the national school.

"I played hurling and football for the local club and went on to play against Limerick for one game at U-16 when I was hurling for Galway but I had to stick to rugby."

Blade went to attend a GAA-dominated school but along with his friends, turned Athenry Vocational School into decent rugby contenders, getting to the Connacht Senior Cup semi-final where they lost 30-5 to Colaiste Iognaid.

'The Jes' went on to beat Sligo Grammar in the final and it was a case of what might have been for Blade and his team-mates.

"There were a lot of lads from Monivea in my year. We had quite a good underage team with Monivea at the time and we brought that into the school," he recalls.

"It was a GAA school but our success helped to get the teachers and the players in there interested in rugby. It brought rugby to new heights in the Tech."

It was a golden era of rugby for Athenry VS but it wouldn't end there for the then aspiring out-half.

The following year back at Monivea their U-19s claimed the Connacht Cup but were dumped out of the All-Ireland series at the semi-final stage by Munster champions Shannon/St Mary's.

Diminutive

The diminutive No 10 was also representing his province at U-19 level and was one of the stars when they clinched a famous inter-pro title with a 20-15 win over Leinster 'A' in the final.

He really stood out when he ran in for a hat-trick of tries against Leinster 'B' before that.

"Up to Connacht Youths I was playing out-half - despite the family tradition I never played scrum-half," he explains.

"They asked me would I like to move in and try it so I did, it went pretty well so I decided to stay.

"It was Nigel Carolan and Jimmy Duffy who saw that in me to play at scrum-half. There was an opening there, I tried and had to work pretty hard but it is a big difference changing from out-half to scrum-half.

"I came into the academy straight after the U-20 inter-provincials, but it was also great to be working under guys like Nigel, Jimmy and Cory Browne."

The progression curve was steep and Blade had to learn fast but he adapted all the way.

"I first started with U-20s so I would have been in for three days a week and then I was brought into the sub-academy after the first week or two, so you would be training for five days," he says.

"It was what I wanted to do so I was happy, I didn't mind the long days training.

"Nowadays I'm playing my club rugby for Galwegians rather than Monivea, so when the seniors don't need me I am either with them or playing for the Eagles.

"In fairness Monivea were great with me when I moved and I still try and get out there as often as I can.

"The move has definitely paid off, we are pushing strong in Division 1B now and I think my form has improved playing at that level.

"My academy contract was up this year so I didn't really know what was going to happen but they offered me a deal with the seniors.

"They said I had progressed so well in the academy that they are happy to offer me a development contract. It's great to have that confirmed."

With Kieran Marmion, Ian Porter and John Cooney on the books Connacht have never had such depth in the No 9 jersey so it took something special for Blade to be added to the list - the 29-27 win away to Bayonne was a turning point.

"Once I found out I was going to be starting I was delighted but I knew it was a big game for me. It was a chance to show that I can be the starting nine or give the likes of Kieran and John Cooney and Ian Porter a bit of competition," he says.

"I didn't go out to that game to try and impress individually, we spoke about just having a good team performance and it went pretty well. I ended up scoring two tries but it was two tries from a one to 23 performance.

"I found that the pace of the game more than the physicality was hard to come to terms with. It was a very quick game and it is a big step up from playing in the Ulster Bank League with Galwegians.

"When you are playing with better players it is easier for a scrum-half to play better. So I really enjoyed it."

Irish Independent

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