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Graduating to the Blues

Leinster Academy manager Colin McEntee is the man who can make dreams come true. He is the first port of call in the province for young players on the way into professional rugby.

The cut-throat business of pay-for-play sport is gathering pace as club scouts and independent agents trawl the net of underage rugby all over the world for the next great talent.

McEntee is charged with identifying and taking in those players with the potential, or latent talent, to suggest they have a chance of 'making it'.

For instance, Ireland U20 full-back Andrew Conway was named for the first time in the Leinster squad this week after being fast-forwarded from school at Blackrock College last year straight into the Academy. He was joined by his school-mate Brendan Macken. The 15 stone centre made the full Leinster squad earlier in the season.



MAJORITY

The evidence is there to show that Michael Cheika is an advocate of the 'if they're good enough, they're old enough' philosophy of the game. For the majority of 'young guns', however, McEntee takes a careful-as-you-go approach to development.

How many places are there available every year? "We wouldn't put a number on it. We have our succession planning. So, we know, position specific, what we need. We'd also cater for the player with that X-factor, or with potential, on a pathway into the Academy," said McEntee.

"We screen players from the Junior Cup. The beauty about the Senior Cup is that late developers can come to the fore at the age of 18. (Ireland U20 lock) Ben Marshall from St Andrew's stood out last year for his physique and for what he tried to do within the games.

"We have the Senior Cup. Then, the Ireland U19s have an international against France. The Ireland Youths are in the FIRA European Championship. The Ireland U18 Schools are in the U18 Six Nations tournament in Wales as well.

"With the type of quality games being played, it is invaluable for us in coming to a decision.

"We are aware of a lot of the guys. The Senior Cup can provide good confirmation of how we view them. The Senior Cup can reveal which players are able to make the key decisions under pressure. Some guys relish it. Some guys mightn't. There is the pressure from the history and hype of the Cup. There is the pressure of the game itself and there is the pressure from the 4,000 people in the stands."

McEntee has also noted how most, if not all of the schools have moved away from overly structured set-piece rugby to a more fluent, heads-up approach to what is on and when it is on.



PHILOSOPHY

"I have been watching the Schools Cup, as part of my job, for the last ten years. The philosophy of the Leinster brand is that of a footballing province.

"This year, it is heartening to see almost all the schools play our style of rugby.

"It is very pleasing on the eye. It is exciting because it is exposing the full ability of players.

"When you look across the board, there is an abundance of talent out there. There is a lot of good footballing ability and athleticism.

"There would absolutely be players from within the four schools that are on our radar. We are open-minded about who can come into the system," concluded McEntee.

Some of the players are not just playing for their school. They are playing for their future.


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