Wednesday 11 December 2019

Des Berry: 'Cian Kelleher appears out in cold after move back for home comforts'

Cian Kelleher. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Kelleher. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Des Berry

The kid swallows a high ball inside his own half, picks up speed from a standing start, and skips past three defenders to ghost home for a Try of the Season candidate.

This is not a description of Jordan Larmour's solo try against Munster at Thomond Park in January 2018.

It is referring to Cian Kelleher's first and, to date, only try for Leinster in February 2016.

One year later, when Kelleher was tempted away to Connacht on a two-year deal, Leinster saw it as a direct attack on their academy.

It is one thing to chase down a mature man skirting the fringes of the first team; another to steal away a rising star.

At the time, Pat Lam was making waves on the west coast and the lure of guaranteed first-team action, a system well-suited to back-three attackers and, presumably, a considerable bump in pay swayed Kelleher.

"Passing up on an offer of a development contract with Leinster was obviously a difficult decision for Cian," noted Lam back then.

"But it reflects an ambition and hunger for opportunity that not only Connacht rugby, but everyone involved in Irish rugby, is looking for."

This would have come as sweet music to the ears of the IRFU performance director David Nucifora, a man inclined to spread the talent across the four provinces rather than have Leinster hoard all their goods.

The reaction of Lam to poaching one of Leinster's blue-chip boys reinforced that message.

At Connacht, Kelleher made 54 appearances and delivered 14 tries in a positive growth period, jostling for game-time against the likes of Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy.

Two years later, he revealed his decision to move home to Dublin.

It has not been a triumphant return. Not just yet. He has mostly been watching on from the outside, while younger brother Rónan earns rave reviews for his showings at hooker.

With the Ireland squad away in Carton House and Japan all the way through to last month, the slate was wiped clean for Cian Kelleher to make a statement.

Unfortunately, what he found was Hugo Keenan chosen to fill the full-back space left by Rob Kearney and Jordan Larmour, with Jimmy O'Brien in the hat too.

In truth, Kelleher has probably grown into more of a wing than a full-back and had James Lowe, Fergus McFadden, Adam Byrne and Barry Daly for company.

After the World Cup cut, Dave Kearney returned to the fold looking for somewhere to use his pre-season gains.

Kelleher has seen a limited 96 minutes, his first start coming in round four of the PRO14 in that turgid 3-0 win in Zebre.

The following week, he was good for 16 minutes off the bench against the Dragons on his first appearance for Leinster at the RDS in over three-and-a-half years.

It is a long way short of what he would have wanted when he agreed to come home from Connacht.

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