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Dundon making mark on all fronts

WITH the Pro12 and the Heineken Cup still not on the agenda, all eyes this week will be on Paris but, for some, also on the RDS and the small matter of the Beauchamps Leinster Schools Senior Cup Final on Sunday.

Aaron Dundon could be forgiven for averting his eyes from the schools showpiece and perhaps taking a stroll well away from Ballsbridge.

It could have been very different for the Leinster hooker and Newbridge College coach but coming up against tournament favourites Blackrock College in the semi-finals will do that to you.

"At the start of the year our goal with Newbridge was to win the League which we did and that was a massive boost for us. A first league title in 17 years, which is a great achievement considering we are now a co-ed school so our playing resources are tighter than your average school that we'd be competing against.

"The focus was of course then on the Senior Cup. We thought we could win it but we obviously came up against a very good Blackrock side.

"While we may not be one of the traditional powerhouses, the open draw offers opportunities but we also knew that we had a talented squad and a squad that was playing with confidence after that league win. Young players playing with confidence is a potent mix and we knew that we had a couple of performances in us. How far we would go was another matter entirely but the boys can be very proud of their achievements."

Those achievements included wins over Roscrea and St Mary's but awaiting them in the semi-final was pre-tournament favourites and defending champions Blackrock.

"They are justifiably the favourites in my opinion. To be fair to us I think we had our homework done and we had them matched in many areas, but to their credit and this is where they are very strong, they varied their game plan against us and played a wider, more expansive game. That is the mark of a very good team, to be able to adapt to the opposition on a game-by-game basis, especially at schools level.

"They also played their best rugby of the year against us which marks them out. When the chips were down and they were being asked serious questions, they found answers. Unfortunately."

However, while he has taken to coaching at this level and has enjoyed the experience to date with Newbridge, the New Zealander is not blind to some perceived flaws in the current system.

"The Senior Cup is a really big positive but I just think with young guys, they should be playing games and for some schools playing within a straight knock-out system you have guys that you want to develop as players and that you want to stay involved with the game going forward but only getting one game in their final year. Look at the 'big six' with the open draw and teams like Belvo and Terenure. For their senior guys to get one competitive game all year, is not enough in my opinion.

"Look at Newbridge and the teams in our section, we are playing in a league week in, week out and that is hugely beneficial for those players in the long run, regardless of whether or not you win. You want players to stay involved and stay playing beyond their school days."

Interestingly Aaron also alludes to the benefits of playing in the AIL for player development as he was at the time with Clontarf when he was first spotted for Leinster.

"You only have to look at the impact of Jack Conan recently. He's been blazing a trail in the AIL and then we have seen the impact he has made at both 'A' level and then of course most recently at Senior level for us. You never know who might be looking at you and where an opportunity might come from."

Benefits

The benefits of being a professional rugby player are obvious and well established but ultimately for most it boils down to getting paid for doing what you love to do. What maybe doesn't garner as much attention are the downsides and for those from the Southern Hemisphere it provides unique challenges.

"We do get June off so it works well in terms of planning holidays and then the odd week here or there but seeing family for any of us from New Zealand or Australia is tricky because of the distance. I have tried heading back for a week for my two sisters' weddings but coming back was a disaster – it took me ages to recover from the jetlag."

There is also the alternate seasons to contend with.

"Heading home for June when it is winter isn't the most appealing time of year.

"But Katie and I are getting married in June so I am looking forward to my family coming over, in particular my brothers who I haven't seen in a few years."

Until then though all of his focus is on a strong finish to the current campaign with Leinster.

"At this point in the season, we have just had our last break so the minds are definitely more focused. This is the business end of the year and we're still involved on all fronts.

"Personally I've had more game time this year than in previous and I've really enjoyed it.

"Obviously Richardt's (Strauss) illness was unfortunate for him but that is the value of having a competitive squad and it is great that we have that strength in depth.

"I hope I've put my hand up in the games I've played and we'll wait and see what the next few weeks hold."


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