Saturday 23 February 2019

Connacht will not be a development province - Andy Friend confirms that Cian Kelleher will return to Leinster in the summer

Cian Kelleher, pictured scoring a try against Leinster at the RDS in December, joined Connacht in 2017. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Cian Kelleher, pictured scoring a try against Leinster at the RDS in December, joined Connacht in 2017. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Connacht head coach Andy Friend. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Andy Friend said he has no fears about Connacht being turned into a development province again after confirming Cian Kelleher will leave the province after three seasons.

As revealed in Friday's Irish Independent, the winger will return to Leinster next season, following in the footsteps of the likes of Fionn Carr, Jamie Hagan, Mick Kearney, Mike McCarthy, Seán Cronin and Robbie Henshaw.

Friend said he was disappointed that Kelleher was leaving but said he had no fears that Connacht might be perceived as being a development province again.

"I wouldn't be fearful of that," said Friend. "In fact, I would go the other way and say Connacht provides opportunity. You look at on the weekend Tom Daly and Tom Farrell, everyone is talking about Tom Farrell's game and why is that, it's because he got the opportunity.

"One of the things you get here is you get the opportunity to play. You only become a better footballer by playing football at the highest level.

"For me, Connacht actually offer that opportunity. At the same time everyone is quite within their right to make a decision.

"For various reasons, I am sure Cian will talk about that when he announces it, he will share the reasons he decided to make it and I know it was a tough decision."

Connacht, unlike the first decade and a half of the professional era, receive the same level of financial support as the other three provinces from the IRFU - the other three have shown a greater ability to bolster their coffers through commercial activity - and Friend (pictured) confirmed that the provinces are not allowed outbid each other for a player.

"That's the other thing, they can't. It's never a monetary thing in the IRFU. If they (the players) want to cash in on big money they may go somewhere else overseas. That's a fact for our boys.

"It's never just about money. It might be important to a lot of coaches and players, but talking about myself personally . . . whenever I was offered a contract, first thing, was it right thing for my family? If they don't have families, is it the right thing for you as a person?

"Second thing, will it allow you to grow as a coach for me, or as a player? It's a no-brainer for me.

"The third thing, can I live on the money? I would suggest that most young blokes can live on the money they get."

There was good news on the contract front for Connacht with in-form out-half Jack Carty signing a new two-year contract.

Meanwhile, Bundee Aki is available for Saturday's Challenge Cup clash against Sale Sharks at the Sportsground, with captain Jarrad Butler, Tiernan O'Halloran and Denis Buckley set to return.

Back-rower Seán O'Brien is likely to be out with a shoulder injury.

Irish Independent

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