Sunday 19 February 2017

Connon follows his brother down the Irish Exiles route

Published 10/03/2016 | 02:30

Brett Connon was inspired to play for Ireland after following his older brother's example Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Brett Connon was inspired to play for Ireland after following his older brother's example Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

The Irish Exiles system is one that doesn't always get the credit it deserves but the fact remains that the work done by what is a volunteer organisation crucially broadens the country's talent pool.

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On Saturday against Italy, Rhys Ruddock and Kieran Marmion are likely to be included in the match-day squad and both are products of the Exiles system.

The likes of Rob Henderson and current Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby are recent high-profile products who went on to play for the Lions and according the Brett Connon, the only exile included in the Ireland U-20s' original 30-man Six Nations squad, "there is big, big depth coming through now".

Connon (pictured) is eligible to play for Ireland through his father, who is from Dublin, but the real inspiration to wear the green jersey came via his older brother.

Grant Connon played for Ireland U-18 Clubs in 2010 and since then Brett has wanted to follow in his footsteps and in his own words, go one better than him.

The 19-year old has been in the Newcastle Falcons' academy since the age of 15 and although he represented the North of England at U-16 level, he insists that playing for Ireland was always at the forefront of his mind.

"At U-18s level there are a few different camps with Irish Exiles and we come across to play against Munster and stuff, mini interpros," Connon explained.

"I wanted to follow my brother and maybe get one up on him so definitely that was in the back of my mind when I was playing and training at youth age-group.

"There is big, big depth and it is coming through now. There are a lot of people who have gone over to Ulster and you have got a few people travelling across and starting to set up camp in Ireland now.

"There are definitely more and more coming and it is good for the Irish people over in England."

Connon will start at full-back against Italy tomorrow as Ireland look to build on the stunning win over England two weeks ago which was made all the more sweet given that Connon played a key role from the bench at the ground (Kingston Park) where he plays his club rugby.

But was it in any way bittersweet?

"I'm not sure, really. For myself I've always seen myself as an Irish qualified player so there is no bittersweet, really," he maintained.

"There was a little bit (of slagging) actually because my house mate was playing for England - the number eight, the captain (Callum Chick). I met him a couple of times when I was on the floor!"

The Exiles play a key role in Irish rugby and as long as the system is able to keep hold of the future stars, it will in turn continue to be a success.

Ireland U-20s to play Italy in Donnybrook tomorrow - B Connon; H Keenan, S Daly, C O'Brien, J Stockdale; J McPhillips, S Kerins; A Porter, A McBurney, C O'Donnell; P Claffey, J Ryan (capt); C Gallagher, W Connors, G Jones. Reps: H Kean, J Bollard, B Betts, S O'Connor, M Deegan, J Poland, P Kiernan, T Kennedy.

Irish Independent

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