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Ward aiming to follow his fellow Tullow native O'Brien

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Former Leinster star Sean O'Brien

Former Leinster star Sean O'Brien

Former Leinster star Sean O'Brien

For years, Sean O'Brien blazed a trail for rugby in Carlow, but more recently, there has been a spate of players who have emerged from the county and into provincial set-ups.

Leinster's Byrne twins, Bryan and Ed, as well as Tom Daly, who is now in Connacht via his home province, have since followed O'Brien's lead. Ireland U-20s prop Charlie Ward is the next man off the block and like O'Brien, grew up in Tullow.

Ward, who can play on both sides of the scrum, started Ireland's opening Six Nations win over Scotland and came off the bench against Wales. He is now pushing for a recall for Friday's clash in England.

O'Brien has played a key role in putting Tullow on the map, but so too have the many club stalwarts, who basked in the glory of winning the 2017 Towns Cup.

"I know him well, I think around Tullow we all know each other," Ward said of O'Brien.

"He just grew the club so much. I started playing minis there - he hadn't got to the big time at that stage - and there weren't many playing, but once he played the numbers just started flooding in. Now we're filling teams out in our league in 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 . . . which wouldn't have happened 10 years ago."

Ward was in the crowd in 2017 when Tullow enjoyed that historic day. He could see what the success meant to the people of his town, and he felt the other end of that the following year when he was part of the squad beaten in the final.

"Rugby is loved by the aul' lads in the club, it's bred into everyone in Tullow," Ward added.

"It's pretty much the biggest sport in the town. It was unbelievable to see lads in the club of 70 years of age crying their eyes out after winning the Towns Cup. Everyone was crying after it. It was such a big occasion for us all."

Irish Independent