Sunday 23 July 2017

Leinster benefiting from 'looking outside the box'

Sean O'Brien
Sean O'Brien
Joey Carbery of Leinster. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Back at the clubhouse, the celebrations went on long into the night, and for a couple of hours the man serving the drinks from behind the bar was Tullow's most famous son.

To those from the Carlow town, the sight of Sean O'Brien pulling pints is not an unfamiliar one, but it is nevertheless a snapshot of the community spirit that goes on right throughout the province and indeed the country.

Tullow had just been crowned Towns Cup champions for the first time in their history and for the club that handed Lions flanker O'Brien his first opportunity in rugby, it was a special moment.

Tullow's success two weeks ago came on the back of Wicklow managing the same feat last year as they etched their name on the trophy for the first time.

The rise of rugby in rural areas across Leinster is no coincidence.

In recent years the province have put a greater emphasis on casting their net far and wide in a bid to scout players from the club game and not just from the traditional powerhouse Dublin schools route.

Cistercian College Roscrea have emerged as a force and their unforgettable Leinster Senior Cup win two years ago will forever be one of the great schools underdog stories.

Last year, the IRFU and their performance director David Nucifora created new provincial talent coaching roles to ensure that quality young players do not slip through the net.

"A lot of the onus will be in the areas outside the traditional catchment areas of talent," Nucifora said in June.

"I've spoken about the schools being the obvious areas that we know where our talent lies.

"That's great and we'll continue to work with them, but the role of these guys will be to work closely with other clubs and other schools to make sure that we are identifying more potential talent we can bring into the pathway to broaden the talent pool."

Former Ireland lock Trevor Hogan is the man tasked with the responsibility in Leinster and as the demographic of the squad slowly begins to shift away from being dominated by players from Dublin, the strength in depth is increasing across the board.

In recent times the likes of Tadhg Furlong (Wexford), Adam Byrne (Kildare) Jack Conan (Wicklow) and Peter Dooley (Offaly) have all emerged from outside the capital, and that trend shows no signs no slowing down any time soon.

"It is massive," O'Brien agrees. "It paves the way for other club and youths players, like Tadhg there in New Ross.

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Leinster's Joey Carbery. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

"There are a lot of players that have gone through Leinster over the past six or seven years that have been involved in club backgrounds. Look at Joey (Carbery) at Athy before he went to Blackrock College for a year.

"It has definitely opened up different avenues for players to come through. Leinster have looked outside the box in the last few years for more raw talent to turn them into something."

O'Brien took on a coaching role with Tullow this season and he has seen first-hand the quality that the club are beginning to produce, but he knows that this is only the first step along to way to a bigger vision.

"Their attitude down home - I see the young lads - is phenomenal," O'Brien says.

"It is just probably lacking a bit of coaching and training twice-a-week when kids up here (Dublin) are training every day of the week.

"That is the step that's there. The systems Leinster have in place at that level are a lot better than they were when I was playing there (Carlow)."

While O'Brien has several business interests outside rugby, coaching Tullow this season and helping them on their way to a historic Cup win has opened his eyes to another side of the game.

"I enjoy coaching. I might look at something down the road when I'm finished playing but I might be sick of it all by then," the 30-year old smiles.

"It has been a great distraction all year, getting down there on a Tuesday evening, or whenever it may be.

"It (Towns Cup) is brilliant for the club at home, massive. Seeing grown men cry at the end of it that have been playing rugby in Tullow the whole of their lives… it was something special.

"They had a great week. They celebrated well down there anyway, I can assure you of that.

"I enjoy getting back there. Your home club is a bit different. You like giving back to them.

"I was working in the rugby club in behind the bar for about two hours on that night. The place was mobbed. You just get in there, I like shoving people out of my way!

"It is normal for me down there. People are so used to seeing me, they don't blink an eye at it. I've often done that. It's just the way it is. Everyone gives a hand down there.

"It gave me the foundation to stay grounded. You won't get ahead of yourself down there, I can assure you."

O'Brien's path into the Leinster set-up was once the road less travelled but with the scouting systems that are now in place across the country, all four provinces will reap the rewards in years to come.

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