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Hooker Duncan Casey has had a huge impact in the red jersey this season

Hooker Duncan Casey has had a huge impact in the red jersey this season

SPORTSFILE

Hooker Duncan Casey has had a huge impact in the red jersey this season

Many of us had never seen Duncan Casey play rugby 13 months ago, so to go from third or fourth in line at Munster to the verge of the Irish squad in that space of time is some achievement.

Munster's hooker issues first surfaced back in November 2013 when Mike Sherry ruptured his cruciate ligament. Foot and concussion problems also ruled Damien Varley out for long periods of time, which resulted in Casey and Niall Scannell rising quickly through the ranks.

The net result was Casey made his senior debut against Perpignan in the Heineken Cup at Thomond Park at the end of 2013. A fortnight later he made his first start at Musgrave Park against the Scarlets.

That first start was cut short due to a nasty cut to his head, but he had made a good impression on the Munster management. Since then Casey has gone on to make 27 appearances, has secured a two-year contract, and has also been invited into the Ireland squad. It's dreamland for the Cork man.

"I don't think the last 12 months could have gone much better for me really. If you had suggested that this kind of thing would happen me, even 13 or 14 months ago, I probably would have laughed in your face, but that is the way rugby works.

"When certain people get into difficulty it presents an opportunity for other people and I have been fortunate enough to have been presented with an opportunity. It's going pretty well for me at the moment so hopefully it continues," says the 24-year-old former Glenstal Abbey pupil.

Despite a steady grounding through school, club rugby with Shannon and into the Munster academy, Casey admits he had some doubts when he was called into the senior team at such short notice. He had watched the first teamers prepare and play for a few years and often wondered if he had sufficient work done to make the leap.

"You like to think you will be ready but you are never certain. You would have a lot of doubts about whether your conditioning is at a good enough level, whether your physicality is up to the standard.

"I was quite apprehensive looking in from the outside, but that is natural for anyone in my position. But after three or four months - and it did take that long - I started to realise that I was performing reasonably and I was able to have a decent impact on games."

Standards

He needn't have worried about hitting high standards though. Casey tops the Pro12 lineout charts with a 90 per cent success rate; in the Champions Cup, he runs at 86 per cent (36 successes from 42 throws); he is the team's second highest tackler (40), and is second on the turnover tallies (4).

His intercept try late on in Clermont helped secure a vital losing bonus point, a score he says was a great personal and team moment, but one that needs to be backed up with a win tomorrow.

"Getting the ten points in the last six or seven minutes could have a big impact on where the season goes for us in Europe still. I don't score tries too often so it was certainly a good feeling to run in one from 20 metres or so and to do it at a pretty crucial time in the game.

"We know that it is a must-win game for us against Saracens, so we are going into it with a cup final attitude. This week we have been very meticulous with our detail and our preparation to give us every opportunity to get a result," he said.

Perhaps Munster's Mr Consistency has slotted so easily into his new surroundings because he is such a rounded individual. He is never afraid to voice his opinions on political matters, he recently took part in the 'Moving on together Sleep Out Challenge', which raised vital funds for the Mid West Simon, and he also wrote a entertaining and informative diary during pre-season for Munster's website.

Journalism is in the blood though. Duncan's father Pat worked as a journalist with the Cork Examiner before entering the public relations sector. It's a path Duncan would like to follow after rugby.

"It all came about when I had a chat with Marcus Horan, who was our player development officer from IRUPA. I told him I was interested in getting involved in writing again. It was something I really liked in school and potentially I wanted to get involved with journalism as a career post-rugby.

"An opportunity came about for me to do some writing for the IRUPA magazine 'In Touch' and from that the possibility of me writing the diary for the website came up and I jumped at it. Maybe I caught the writing bug from my dad when I was a youngster because it is something I would like to do again."

But for now his eyes are trained on success on the park. Irish caps are a big target for Casey, but he's not worried when they come.

"I was up briefly in the pre-Christmas Ireland camp. I was there for the night, just a basic introduction to things. I don't know whether I am going to be involved in any more camps further down the line, but it was certainly nice to go and get a taste for what life is like up there.

"I think first and foremost the goal in rugby is to play for your province at the highest level and subsequent to that, everyone that is playing with Munster at the moment has ambitions of going on and playing with Ireland.

"I would love to see myself pulling on a green jersey down the line. I don't know if that is going to come or when, but I am just really happy with what's happening with Munster at the moment. I won't get stressed out about anything else."

Irish Independent