O'Donoghue rise reflects potential of Reds' next generation
Club focus: Greencore Academy
It has been another extremely successful season for the Greencore Munster Rugby Academy with a number of home-grown talents progressing to make their Guinness Pro12 debuts for the province.
Jack O'Donoghue, Rory Scannell (selected for Emerging Ireland this week) and Darren Sweetnam all played senior rugby with Munster this season following in the footsteps of Peter O'Mahony, Conor Murray, Keith Earls and many others in the current squad who graduated through the Academy system.
Elite Player Development Manager Peter Malone is very pleased with the progress being made by the current Academy crop.
"Every year you're looking to push players up to the next level and Jack O'Donoghue has been our stand-out year-three academy player," said Malone. "We're always pushing to get more and more players in and certainly this year Jack, Darren Sweetnam and Rory Scannell have really challenged at a higher level.
"We've seen examples over the last few years of guys who have slotted straight into the Munster senior team very comfortably because of the fact that they've played with Munster 'A' in a similar system at semi-professional/professional level against English Championship teams.
"It's stood them in good stead and it's important to be comfortable with the system, the pre-match routine and playing at a high level against physical, professional athletes.
"Jack was the Munster 'A' captain this year, Rory Scannell played all the games for the 'A' team and guys like Sean McCarthy, Darren Sweetnam and Liam O'Connor would have played a lot of rugby for the Munster 'A' team. That's part of our development programme now and we're very happy with how it's going."
Along with their Munster 'A' appearances, a number of players have flourished in the All-Ireland League this season with Malone keen to stress the importance of players impressing for their clubs.
"If they're playing with their club, we want players standing out every week and a lot of guys this year played a lot of rugby for their club. Alex Wootton played a lot of games with Garryowen as they got promoted and we're very happy with how that's gone for him, so guys must take the opportunity where they get it.
"A lot of the guys will play club rugby and it's important for Munster and for their specific club that they stand out at that level."
Munster representation in the U-20 squad for this summer's World Rugby U-20 Championship isn't as high as Malone would have liked but promising full-back Stephen Fitzgerald was one of the shining stars in their Six Nations campaign.
"Stephen Fitzgerald has gone very well for the Ireland U-20s, he's part of a very good backline there," said Malone. "We're disappointed we didn't get a few more bodies in the squad. Some tight selection calls went against us for the Six Nations and the World Championship.
"A few guys just missed out but we feel comfortable they will be good enough to push on. Guys like Greg O'Shea, Jack Cullen, Liam O'Connor and Frank Bradshaw Ryan were just on the wrong side of selection calls for us but we're hopeful that these guys keep developing and there's a future in rugby for them."
Malone will be making some difficult decisions in the coming weeks as he recruits players for the Academy to take the places of those who will be moving on.
"The hard decisions sometimes are the guys you're going to bring in because you want to fill a slot that's going to become available for the next few years, that's part of our succession plan," Malone explained.
"You want to bring in the best quality of players that you can, there are a lot of candidates that are putting their hands up who played Ireland U-19s rugby this year.
"It is going to be a tough decision about a few of those guys about whether to bring them in or not but that's part of rugby. What we want is more and more tough decisions every year and more and more Munster players breaking through to Irish schools and Irish U-19 squads."
Malone was full of praise for Academy Player of the Year Jack O'Donoghue after a very impressive season that saw the Waterford man make nine senior appearances, scoring three tries.
"That player of the year award is about more than just Jack's performance on the field - which is obviously very, very good.
"He's finishing his degree in Pharmaceutical and Industrial Chemistry - which is a high-level degree and continued to play rugby in the academy and the 'A' squad this year.
"We're very happy with how he's managed his college work and he's obviously excelled on the rugby pitch but it's just as important for Jack, and for us in the academy, that players are managing their college work and lifestyle as well so we're very pleased with him."