Munster’s future bright as U21’s complete Grand Slam

THOSE people who feared that there may be a shortage of emerging talent in Munster can rest easy, as the province’s young guns completed the Grand Slam in the U21 championship at the weekend.

They clinched the title for the second successive season with an 18-10 win over Leinster at Thomond Park.

Manager Niall O’Shea, coach Brian Hyland and his assistant Philip Danaher prepared the side thoroughly for every match and a host of individuals demonstrated they have the talent and desire to progress to the highest levels.

“It was a great achievement to win all six matches and this was first and foremost down to the teamwork and spirt in the squad,” said O’Shea.

“It was exceptional in that they conceded only two tries in the entire campaign. Our focus was to find and nurture players who could go on in time to be of value to Alan Gaffney and Brian Hickey and also to win the championship and enhance their prospects of making the Irish U21 side. “They all still have a lot of development work to do but it is clear that the majority are interested in a career as professionals and aspire to follow in the footsteps of guys like Denis Leamy, Stephen Keogh and Jody Danagher who also came through the U21 structure.

O’Shea believes that at least five members of the pack have the potential to earn their spurs in the professional game. He is especially impressed with UCC hooker Robert Quinn, who will again be underage next season.

“His lineout throwing is unbelievable, so good that after Brian Hickey had watched him for a while, he turned to me and asked if he could do this all the time!

“He has all the basics of a hooker and all he has to do in my view is to bulk up, and he has time on his side to do just that.”

Munster dominated the lineouts in all their matches, thanks to the accurate throwing of Quinn and the expertise of the already well established Shane O’Connor of Cork Constitution, Ryan Hartigan from UL Bohemian and Donnacha Ryan, originally from Nenagh who won a Schools Senior Cup medal with St Munchins in 2002 and is now playing for UCC.

O’Shea also has high expectations of scrum-half Tomás O’Leary. A son of former star Cork hurler Seanie, O’Leary packs searing pace, a keen footballing brain and great strength. According to O’Shea, the young Corkman has only to work on his passing to become a really high-class number 9.

UCC outhalf Barry Keeshan’s educated left foot also has had much to do with Munster’s run of success over the past couple of years. He needs to work on his right-footed kicking and even though he is on the small side, he more than makes up for that with his ability and courage, says the manager.

“One of the nicest things about the set-up is the support we have had from the very top in the Munster Branch“, says O’Shea.

“Garrett Fitzgerald and everybody else showed great interest and gave support, while the same must be said of the clubs all of whom made my task a lot easier. Alan Gaffney and Brian Hickey were behind us all the way and it helped enormously that they were prepared to promote a number of the 21s into the Celtic League squad.”

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