Saturday 14 December 2019

Prop star Kilcoyne pushes himself into Ireland's front rank

Dave Kilcoyne's hard work has brought him a long way in a short time, says Brendan Fanning

In the unlikely event of Dave Kilcoyne's international career coming to an end before the Six Nations gets under way in a fortnight, at least he will be remembered as a quiz question: who was the only Test prop to have two caps but no scrums?

Against South Africa he came on as a blood sub for Cian Healy, ran around like a mad thing for a few minutes, and was then whisked off with the 'uncapped' asterisk removed from his name. He hoped for a bit more in the game against Fiji a week later, in his own home town, but against a Fijian side whose minds were elsewhere it just wasn't satisfying. And there were no caps for the effort.

So, the make-or-break game against the Pumas rolled around in week three, and with a decent chance of a run off the bench, Kilcoyne braced himself for the impact. It never came. The impact that is, for there was plenty of running. "Nah, it was a real broken kinda open game when I came on against Argentina," he says, sounding a little unfulfilled. "No scrums. I still haven't had a scrum at international level, believe it or not."

Time enough for that. The reemergence of Tom Court, whose dumping out of the November games opened the door for Kilcoyne, changes the landscape a bit from when Declan Kidney was surveying his options a few months ago. Even so, Kilcoyne has come so far so fast in Munster that it would take a serious setback to remove him from the equation. And in the young life of Dave Kilcoyne there haven't been many of those.

He turned 24 last month. This time last year he was on an Academy contract and a bit peeved that it hadn't been upgraded to development status. He had made his debut over Christmas against Connacht, was with the senior lads all the time and thought he was worth a bit more. The first competitive start was against the Scarlets in April, and by then it was clear he would be bypassing the development deal and going straight to senior. Not prepared to stop a while and enjoy the scenery, he motored into the Irish squad just three months into his new life as a fully fledged senior pro.

"I was just looking to make that number one jersey in Munster mine – that was all my focus and energy," he says. "Then I found out through Rob (Penney) that I was in the Irish squad and I couldn't believe it. I just rang my dad straight away. It was a very proud day for my family. It was probably my dad's dream all along for me to play for my country and he was thrilled."

The apple didn't fall too far from the tree. Pat Kilcoyne was a loosehead as well, also for Bohs, and of his three sons who joined the club, Dave was marked out early as the most likely to succeed. The slagging over this has been rich now that he has made the breakthrough. The eldest brother Alan gets married in the summer. Between himself and middle son Páraic they hope that somehow they might get a mention on the big day, despite the presence of the chosen one.

Packie Durkan, a Mayo man, is a Bohs stalwart who part guided and part followed Kilcoyne's career through club, Munster schools, the sub academy and then Munster. A relation of the family, he speaks of them with great fondness.

"It was always a great house to visit," he says of the Kilcoyne's place on the Ballinacurra Road. "And it's the same now with himself and Paddy Butler and JJ Hanrahan in Castletroy. I don't know if you ever heard of 'ramblin' houses' years ago but it's a great visiting house. I was there last Tuesday night and I was only in the door and you'd be asked would you have a cup of tea. And David was pretending that he had made this and that, and you know in your heart and soul that he was claiming credit for something that Paddy Butler had baked. I was sitting there about 40 minutes and the next thing there was a knock at the door and it was Paul O'Connell and Alan Quinlan. They were the best of company. He's been surrounded by family all along, be it home or Bohs or Munster, and it's good to see that influence."

Durkan wouldn't have been the only man to be impressed by the young Kilcoyne's hunger to succeed. The only issue was how he would react if it didn't happen. Along the way it took a crane to lift him when things would go wrong.

"Yeah, I suppose," the player says now. "People will always say especially if you're a prop that you have to be patient and wait for your chance and I suppose all those little things can go against you – you mightn't play as high as you actually went. Last year I was anxious to be playing with the senior team before I actually was and you wonder then should you be there at all?

"What I didn't realise at the time was the work rate that was required. And then when you get there you have to appreciate that there's people trying to take your place. So you have to work twice as hard to stay there.

"When I was younger I probably felt I would have deserved places on teams and when you didn't end up on those teams you feel everything's going against you. You're wondering why you're not there and I suppose I did let it get to me. Now, looking back on it, I think it just made me want it more, to train harder. When you see people getting ahead of you you'd probably think you're better than them and it inspires you to get ahead of them. The people who made schools and 19s ahead of me, I don't think they're still even playing rugby some of them."

Kilcoyne will be there for a while yet. Hovering around 113/115kgs won't break any weighing scales for prop forwards, but he is a powerful player with good hands and the scope to develop. Mostly he has heaps of attitude, which is what impressed Rob Penney most.

He'll be a key point in Munster's attack on Racing this afternoon, the perfect candidate to convince the French side that the trip was a waste of time. And some day soon he will get to scrum for Ireland.

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