Kerins aims to follow Connacht stars' path
Beneath the surface of Connacht's impressive season to date are the foundations of their underage structures that have come on leaps and bounds in recent years.
The work that domestic rugby manager Eric Elwood has done with the Western province has been remarkable, while more recently Academy manager Nigel Carolan has pushed the player development programme to another level.
Connacht have spread their net far and wide in an attempt to seek out young talents and the example of Sligo RFC this season has particularly caught the eye.
Three of the current Ireland U-20s squad (Conan O'Donnell, Cillian Gallagher and Stephen Kerins) come from Sligo and have been making inroads with Connacht as well this year.
For scrum-half Kerins who is currently in the province's sub-academy, his recent performances certainly will not have gone unnoticed by Carolan who is his Ireland U-20s coach as well as Connacht's Academy manager.
"The environment is amazing, we get on with the senior guys and we all interact, it's like a big community, it's a really good culture," Kerins said of the atmosphere out west.
"Being part of Connacht is amazing at the moment, but even before that while we were building you know it's a great club to be with.
"I've trained with the senior side once but I got in with the Eagles this year through injuries and most of games during the year. That was the reason that helped me push through."
As well as playing in the British and Irish Cup this season, lining out in the Ulster Bank League has also proved to be invaluable for the trio from Sligo, as Kerins explained:
"It's funny going from playing against England and the week before playing against Midleton for Sligo.
"It was great to have three of us there we're all great mates and pushing the club on and it just shows what the club is doing underage.
"The great thing is because you go from structure to unstructured and it gives you a different view of the game. It's great they have all three of us there and you're constantly learning and even at that level you're teaching other people that are older than you, trying to help everyone out."
Watching the likes of Robbie Henshaw, Ultan Dillane and Kieran Marmion play for Ireland has inspired the next generation coming through and Kerins who is no different, knows the importance of the role that Carolan is playing.
"We've trained with those lads and you see them in the Academy. They're only young lads and it shows that you're not too far away from where they are. It's amazing to see more Connacht people push into the senior squad, I'm delighted for them," Kerins enthused.
"I find Nigel is an amazing coach, sometimes you don't know what you're going to get, what he wants to do, he's a great coach, and the way he wants us to play is amazing, I really like his style.
"Sometimes he has new ideas, he's really creative, he thinks of stuff you wouldn't and it really helps."