Monday 27 January 2020

Cian Tracey: 'When Rob Kearney saw Andy Farrell's name flash up on his phone, he knew exactly what was coming'

Rob Kearney was omitted from Andy Farrell's first Ireland squad. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Rob Kearney was omitted from Andy Farrell's first Ireland squad. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

When Rob Kearney saw Andy Farrell’s name flash up on his phone, he knew exactly what was coming.

For all of the excitement surrounding Farrell naming his first training squad, the reality of making tough calls will have reminded him of the difficult task that lies ahead as Ireland head coach.

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A group of 45 players will gather at the IRFU’s new high performance centre in Abbotstown this weekend for what the union have described as a 'mid-season stocktake.'

Call it what you like, it is a 24-hour training camp and those who are not included, face the reality of being up against it to make into the Six Nations reckoning.

Time on the training pitch will be limited as the idea behind meeting up is to introduce players to some new ideas, which is not the way things worked when Joe Schmidt was in charge.


That Farrell opted to publicly release the squad should be welcomed because under Schmidt’s watch, it was kept under wraps until it slowly leaked out.

It may be a small thing, but Farrell has started his tenure on a positive note, even if the likes of Kearney and Jordi Murphy will disagree.

Murphy’s omission is hard to fathom, unless of course there is an injury that isn’t common knowledge. The flanker has been a key figure in Ulster winning all four of their Champions Cup games – on the back of an impressive debut season up north.

Eight uncapped players are included, which suggests Farrell is keen to turn the page after the World Cup debacle.

All eight are unlikely to make the cut for the Six Nations, but it is a great opportunity for the likes of Will Connors and Tom O’Toole to soak up as much information as possible during their first experience of senior international rugby.

For other youngsters like Caelan Doris and Ronan Kelleher, they will have genuine aspirations of making their Ireland debut come the spring.

The door will remain open for the likes of Kearney and Murphy to force their way back in, but as a new era dawns, there is plenty of dissect in Farrell’s first squad.

Back three

Jordan Larmour’s reign as Ireland’s full-back draws ever closer. The 22-year-old has excelled this season, replacing Kearney in Leinster’s starting XV. He is set to do the same with Ireland, too.

Jacob Stockdale has played in the number 15 jersey for the last two weeks, a position that he often occupied for the Ireland U-20s, and it will be fascinating to see where Farrell and new attack coach Mike Catt see the Ulster man fitting in.

Part of the reason for Stockdale being moved from the wing is down to Will Addison’s suspension, but he will make the trip to Dublin on Sunday.

The inclusions of Andrew Conway and Keith Earls are no surprise, while Dave Kearney and Mike Haley have been rewarded for their good form.


Farrell is spoilt for choice in midfield as regular faces such as Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Chris Farrell have been joined by Rory Scannell and Stuart McCloskey, who are given a chance to kick-start their international careers.


Johnny Sexton’s inclusion is notable purely because he is currently injured. All signs now point to the out-half becoming the next Ireland captain.

Jack Carty will be bitterly disappointed to have been overlooked. That has opened the door for Ross Byrne and the uncapped Billy Burns to come in, while Joey Carbery will take part despite not having played since the World Cup quarter-final due to a ankle injury.


Conor Murray knows he is under pressure for his starting spot because John Cooney’s scintillating form is too good to ignore.

Caolin Blade’s rise continues and, having spent time in Ireland camp earlier this year, he will be looking to kick on again with provincial rival Kieran Marmion left out.

Jamison Gibson-Park recently became Irish qualified and the Kiwi is joined by Leinster team-mate Luke McGrath, who will also be looking to take advantage of Murray’s dip in form.

Front row

With Rory Best now retired, there is an opening at hooker. Niall Scannell and Rob Herring will have their sights firmly set on it, but so too will Kelleher, who is very much the coming man.

Dave Heffernan is a surprise inclusion, while Sean Cronin has been left out and his days in an Ireland jersey look numbered.

Ulster tighthead duo Marty Moore and Tom O’Toole get a chance to impress at the expense of John Ryan.

Second row

After being overlooked for the World Cup squad, Devin Toner is back in on merit.

So too is Quinn Roux, who lost out to Jean Kleyn in Japan, while Ultan Dillane could profit from Beirne’s spell out.

Back row

Plenty of familiar flankers will take part in the mini-camp, but it is the younger brigade who are generating the most excitement. The inclusion of Connors is a sure sign that Farrell is already building for the future.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Doris could start in the Six Nations opener, especially if he continues to wear Leinster’s No 8 jersey in Europe.

Max Deegan will have something to say about that, however, and he too has earned a call-up to add to what is a hugely competitive area.

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