Kerins targeting U-20 glory to put cap on unforgettable season
The march by the Irish U-20s to the World Cup final has seen players drawn from all over the country, mainly from the traditional strongholds, but perhaps no club has contributed as much for its size than Sligo RFC.
There might have been four of them involved in the build-up to Saturday's final against England had injuries not intervened. Lock Cillian Gallagher has had to go home, to be replaced by another Sligo man Matthew Cosgrove, while prop Conan O'Donnell, a veteran from last year's championship in Italy, never made it to Manchester because of injury.
But the omnipresent through the tournament and the Six Nations from Sligo has been Connacht academy scrum-half Stephen Kerins, whose reputation has rocketed after a series of superb displays.
A cousin of former international show-jumper Darragh Kerins, the former Summerhill College student has really blossomed and looks a real prospect.
It has been some season to spend at the Sportsground - he's studying Business Information Systems at GMIT as well - as Connacht went on their march to Pro12 glory, and Kerins is enjoying every bit of it.
"It's amazing. Having the opportunity to play with your best friends since you were young just shows all of the work being done in Connacht," he said.
And with Irish U-20 coach Nigel Carolan also the academy manager with Connacht, Kerins has reaped the benefit of the systems put in place.
"When you see those lads getting through, you say you are only one or two injuries away from getting into the senior team," he said. "You are there or thereabouts. It's just an amazing opportunity to be in the Connacht academy."
The Irish players have had little time to dwell on their string of successes which now sees them just 80 minutes away from lifting the crown.
"You have to enjoy the win straight after and then you have to get straight back up to get ready for the next game," said Kerins. "You don't get time at all, it's the next job each time. But it's been very enjoyable.
"In every game there are opportunities. Every team can be beaten, it's 15 on 15 and we just have to be clinical," added Kerins.