Sunday 21 April 2019

Big Interview: 'I got a call from Joe, it's nice to know I'm getting closer'

Cian Kelleher

Cian Kelleher on the way to scoring a try against Perpignan. Picture: Sportsfile
Cian Kelleher on the way to scoring a try against Perpignan. Picture: Sportsfile

Connacht have registered 23 points out of a possible 25 in their last five games, they're in red-hot form with 19 tries in that time, and Cian Kelleher rounded off the scoring at Stade Aime Giral where they thumped Perpignan last Friday night.

The 24-year-old winger is likely to be one of the focal points for Andy Friend when Connacht go to the RDS tomorrow, and he will look to do some damage against his former province.

Kelleher has scored 13 tries in 43 appearances for Connacht since his arrival at the Sportsground in 2016-17, and were it not for numerous lower body injury setbacks he could have picked up a first cap in another green jersey at this stage.

But as he heads into the first of three Christmas interprovincial derbies he has the opportunity to make a massive impression before Joe Schmidt finalises plans for his Ireland squad in the New Year.

"I got a call from Joe before the November squad was announced. It was just to say I wasn't involved but also that I was doing well and I am on the radar," said Kelleher.

"It's nice to know that I am getting closer. I am on the radar so it gives you a bit of confidence that if you are doing something right the international coaches are taking an interest in what you are doing.

"You just need to kick on and improve on the things he tells you to improve on.

"I am going in the right direction and improving aspects of my game that he told me to work on before.

"It was a good, positive chat and nice to know that I am doing something right anyway."

Kelleher scored twice in his last four Connacht outings and he has clocked up 287 minutes of game time since the bonus-point victory over Southern Kings in South Africa.

It's no coincidence that Connacht have scored 14 tries in the intervening period despite having a depleted back-three.

With Niyi Adeolokun's long-term injury and Rory Scholes' departure to France it's a worry for the coming weeks but Kelleher relishes the challenge.

"It is an opportunity you want to grasp with both hands now," said Kelleher.

"Weather wise December isn't my favourite month but opportunity wise it's huge.

Test

"You are playing against the internationals, some of the best players in the world. It's nice to test yourself against them.

"Any inter-pro is huge. As a month that is massive for the club and everyone involved. You really enjoy playing in December.

"Leinster is a big match but just like every other interpro. They are all big ones. The Leinster, Munster and Ulster games, they are all ones you want to win.

"I wouldn't say this one is a bigger match for me personally. It's just one I really want to win. I wouldn't treat it any differently to Munster or Ulster.

"The same prep goes in and we get the same enjoyment out of it if we get the win."

Kelleher played but wasn't capped for Ireland in their 22-21 defeat to Barbarians at Thomond Park in May 2015.

After that he was snapped up by Connacht and Pat Lam and following a brilliant start in Galway a hamstring tear in a Champions Cup tie against Wasps cut 2016-17 short.

That injury didn't clear up and after a re-tear he returned to injure his quad against Northampton Saints in the Champions Cup play-off on the last day of the season.

That was his left quad and the following pre-season the right quad gave way. An ankle injury curtailed his 2017-18 campaign in March and it was only in pre-season this term that he finally got a right run at it.

"I had a proper pre-season for the first time in a while. You build up a bit of a base from the start of the year," said Kelleher.

"I kind of hit the ground running for the game against Glasgow. From there I have just been getting more minutes as the season has gone on. The more you are playing the more comfortable you are in the team.

"I can build momentum and form. This year being in the team getting those minutes I have been getting a bit of form together. You set goals each week for the games and I have hit those.

"The pre-season was just about building my base and doing prehab for the season ahead. Making sure I am not going to break down as easily.

"The main thing with that is I got an ankle injury last year. I got back fit for the start of pre-season and that allowed me to build up a base in my hamstrings and calves. I built a solid foundation for everything for the rest of the season.

"I just didn't miss a gym session in pre-season. The main gym sessions and then rehab, prehab and a lot of lower body weights the whole time. Just stretching, triggering all over.

"Just making sure everything was spot on. I didn't want anything tying up on me. I was nimble and if I was going into a session I wasn't worried about pulling up.

"It has held me in good stead so far anyway, touch wood it will stand to me."

Degree

Kelleher is currently in the process of finishing his Arts degree in economics and politics. He has two exams next semester but is finished for a few weeks after last Monday's assessment. It's rugby from here on out and he will still get to enjoy some turkey on Christmas Day.

"We will be carb-loading at that stage," said Kelleher.

"But we don't get much time off, there are six days between the Leinster and Ulster games. I will probably get home on Christmas Eve, I have Christmas Day off so I will spend some time with the family.

"Then we have got training on St Stephen's Day, we will head back on Christmas Day in the evening and then we are back for training. We are playing Ulster on the Friday.

"It's a hectic enough period but it's nice to see the family all the same."

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