‘My grandmother ran up the road and forced her way into Thomond Park’

It won’t prompt an update from the AA Roadwatch team but the steady traffic of players switching provinces will continue this summer on the back of IRFU performance director David Nucifora’s vision to maximise the playing pool.

‘My grandmother ran up the road and forced her way into Thomond Park’

It won’t prompt an update from the AA Roadwatch team but the steady traffic of players switching provinces will continue this summer on the back of IRFU performance director David Nucifora’s vision to maximise the playing pool.

Jack McGrath will add to the ‘blue brigade’ up in Belfast and Bill Johnston joins him there from Munster. Cian Kelleher returns to Dublin after a three-year stint at the Sportsground and Nick McCarthy will swap Leinster for lodgings in Limerick. It’s a cross-pollination this is set to intensify in the years to come but Craig Casey won’t be among the worker bees making it happen.

A star of the Ireland U20s side that secured a Six Nations Grand Slam earlier this year, the Limerick scrum-half was reportedly attracting the interest of Leo Cullen before signing a development deal with his native province earlier this month.

It was a suggestion that caused a minor storm at the time. Moving the chess pieces around is one thing but the prospects of Munster losing such a prospect – one of their own – to Leinster was unfathomable. Turns out there was no need to worry as Casey, speaking before Noel McNamara’s U20s left for the Junior World Championship in Argentina, couldn’t help but laugh when asked if the move was ever runner.

“Haha, no.” Spend two minutes with the guy and you see why. He still has one of Peter Stringer’s old jerseys at home. A present for his communion, the man who gave it to him was his uncle Mossy Lawler who played for Munster for eight years. You get the picture.

He’s not sure of the exact year but it was some time in the mid-noughties when he was the team mascot and found himself running out of the tunnel at the old Thomond Park alongside Anthony Foley and wondering if it was all real. He was hooked.

“Since that day, I’ve set my mind on being a professional rugby player for Munster so there was no indecision there. Once that (contract) was there, I was going to sign it. There was no second guessing myself, I was straight. I’m delighted to have signed it.”

He’d already made his senior bow by the time news of Leinster’s interest emerged. A standby reserve for the visit of Galway to Limerick at the end of April, he was catapulted onto the bench when Conor Murray went down in the warm-up.

There were few nerves, though he appreciated the enormity of it even at the time, and the suddenness of his elevation meant that his parents were the only members of his family on hand when the news came through.

“Obviously, when I was called in, there was a rush to get to the TV screen. My grandmother actually heard I was warming up and she ran up the road and forced her way into Thomond Park. She actually only arrived for the last ten minutes.”

Her timing was good. Six minutes later and Casey was coming off the bench and if he felt composed at the prospect – and still does at the prospect of playing senior rugby in the future – then he has the U20s experience to thank for it.

“Well, obviously the exposure (helped). I’d say Johann (van Graan) really hadn’t seen me play at a high level until the U20s Six Nations anyway.

The training going into the Six Nations made me a hell of a better player.

"The quickness we play at helps my game massively,” he explained. “I think the whole 20s experience made me ready to play that game in general. I now back myself to be ready to be a pro.”

Murray’s duties in Japan early next season will leave a gap in needing of filling back at base but Casey won’t be the only man putting up his hand. Alby Mathewson will still be around. So too Neil Cronin and Jack Stafford. Not to mention McCarthy’s arrival from Leinster.

By then the plan is that Casey will have added to his education with a successful stint in Argentina at the Junior World Championship where Ireland are grouped with England, Australia and Italy.

It’s a difficult pool and all the more so given the half-dozen or so injuries which have deprived the Six Nations champions of some key men, not least captain and centre David Hawkshaw, out-half Harry Byrne and flanker Martin Moloney.

Casey delivers all the right words when bigging up their replacements and the 20-year-old understands that’s not the only way in which the dynamic has changed. Underdogs for the Six Nations, they will be a prized scalp in South America.

“There is going to be a target on our back but we’ve got to relish that. It’s probably a change from the Six Nations. I’d say England and France were the hunted and we’re probably turning into the hunted. It’s something we talked about in the leadership group a few weeks ago, that the best way to not be hunted is to go hunting as well.

"Look, we really need a good start against England. They will be gunning for us, like the first game in the Six Nations. It will be a hard test but if we win that game, which we will back ourselves to do, it will set us up nicely.”

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