The province had half-a-dozen in the 28-man panel named by Carolan’s predecessor, Mike Ruddock, 12 months ago and that all paints a worrying picture in the wake of Saturday’s heavy defeat to Saracens and elimination from the European Champions Cup. Munster’s underage representations has been a source of concern before this, though Carolan stressed there were others from the southern academy within a whisker of making the cut.
“For a national team it is important you have representation from all four sides. That’s what a national team is. Historically, it has maybe been weighted heavily towards Leinster with the populace but Munster will be disappointed. But of the seven or eight guys who got phone calls (saying they didn’t make it) on Monday, they (Munster) have got guys who are close to this squad and are only an injury away from making it.
“Selection is made purely on perception and we are relying mainly on feedback. This selection was made in conjunction with (Munster’s elite player development manager) Peter Malone. We try to pick the best guys for Irish rugby. There has been no agenda. There were close calls. Some will feel hard done by but, when you look at the competition in the squad, it is hard to argue with who is in there.”
Carolan, who has worked wonders with the Connacht Academy in recent years, assumes responsibility of a national squad that boasts 11 involved at this level over the last season or two. Among them are the half-back pairing of scrum-half Nick McCarthy and 10 Ross Byrne, as well as their Leinster colleague Garry Ringrose at centre. Harrison Brewer, Jack Cullen, Oisin Heffernan, Sean McCarthy and Rory Moloney all played Six Nations in 2014 as well. Add in Billy Dardis, Ciaran Gaffney and Josh Murphy – all of whom featured for an Ireland team that finished fourth at the Junior World Cup in New Zealand – and the potential of the group is obvious.
The back line looks especially exciting and Carolan has promised a heads-up approach that should play to the team’s strengths against the French and English behemoths with the latter being met on a Donnybrook 4G pitch that should also suit the Irish more than Dubarry Park. Carolan opted for the cliché about a team only being as good as its weakest link when asked to highlight some of the potential stars.
“I’ll tell you where the strength is: it was when I had to make seven or eight calls to guys last Monday who didn’t make the 30 and that’s the really fine lines between guys who are in the squad and those who aren’t.
“That’s testament to the academy programmes that there is strength in depth and there is competition for places. We’ll achieve nothing unless there’s competition and guys are pushed.
“That goes right across the board and up the national team. Competition is king.”
S Arnold (Ballynahinch), H Brewer (Terenure),* R Byrne (UCD),* J Carbery (UCD), F Cleary (Lansdowne) , J Cullen (Shannon),* B Dardis (UCD), * L Dow (Queens), J Dwan (Leinster), S Fitzgerald (Shannon), C Gaffney (Galwegians), * O Heffernan (Terenure),* M Lagan (Ballymena), J Lougman (UCD), Z McCall (Queens University), N McCarthy (UCD),* S McNulty (UCD),* S McVeigh(Buccaneers), R Moloney (Buccaneers),* J Murphy (UCD,) * D O’Connor (St. Mary’s), C O’Donnell (Sligo), C Oliver (St. Mary’s), G O’Shea (Shannon), J Owens(Queens University), G Ringrose (UCD),* C Romaine (Buccaneers), J Stockdale (Queens University), A Thompson (Queens University), N Timoney (St. Mary’s).
*Denotes previously capped at this level