Tuesday 21 November 2017

The Lost Sons Of Leinster XV - Top stars forced to leave Dublin to further career

Ian Madigan, Andrew Conway and Tadhg Beirne all came through the system in Leinster
Ian Madigan, Andrew Conway and Tadhg Beirne all came through the system in Leinster

Des Berry

It was the 53rd minute of the Connacht-Munster Interprovincial derby last Friday night when JJ Hanrahan lofted a ball to the right corner where Connacht’s Cian Kelleher had to defend Munster’s Andrew Conway in the air.

As the ball broke away from both of them, it brought to mind the simple truth that they could so easily be still playing together for their home province – Leinster.

Then, with the game in the balance, centre Tom Farrell, out of Castleknock College, flew onto a flat pass and streaked away for the match-winner.

The Leinster Academy has been long lauded as one of the best in the world with many of those unable to stay going on to play elsewhere in Ireland and further afield.

The greatest number reside west of the Shannon with a cluster of them in the current Connacht squad.

For example, former Grenoble loose-head Denis Coulson, a pet project of Bernard Jackman at the French club, arrived at The Sportsground this season.

Utility back Steve Crosbie, listed as an out-half, prop-turned-hooker Shane Delahunt and centre Farrell, via Bedford Blues, have made their mark.

There is ex-scrum-half Matt Healy, long-established as a wing finisher, centre Craig Ronadlson and Cian Kelleher, the man Leinster did not want to lose in the summer of 2016.

The most interesting story surrounds lock Gavin Thornbury, who had to go to New Zealand to come back to a contract out West.

Munster has been the home of out-half Ian Keatley since 2011, back-three exponent Conway since 2013 and natural number eight Robin Copeland since 2014. 

Mullingar man Mark Flanagan has been signed on a short-term contract from Saracens and winger Jack Power made the move from Leinster’s Academy to Munster’s in the summer.

The trickle of talent is also leaking north towards Ulster, Leinster’s Sub-Academy second row Alan O’Connor taking the train in 2012.

One scrum-half Dave Shanahan has been joined by another in John Cooney, now first-choice after the leaving of Ruan Pienaar. 

Number eight Nick Timoney made a two-try-scoring Man of the Match debut in the PRO14 League last month.

Ireland U20 second row Jack Regan, son of former Offaly All-Ireland winning hurler Daithí, has made the same move.

The decision of Simon Zebo to leave Ireland for France is one that Ian Madigan regretted pretty quickly.

The latter has been rerouted to join the Bristol revolution, headed up by Pat Lam, where hooker Jason Harris-Wright and loose-head prop Jack O’Connell are stationed.  There was outrage when Martin Moore, still just 26, departed for Wasps in 2016 until Tadhg Furlong bounded onto the scene.

Brendan Macken was already at Wasps where the outside centre moved when he realised there was no room at Leinster in 2015.

The decision to move away from their comfort zone has worked out better for some than others, like Tadhg Beirne, on his way back to Munster at the end of this season after starring for the Scarlets. 

Ireland international Dominic Ryan was beginning to find his feet at Leicester Tigers when concussion issues forced a 12-week break from the game.

Fellow flanker Conor Gilsenan has overcome a series of setbacks to earn the respect of London Irish in The Premiership. 

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