The latest talent off the Leinster Rugby production line was unveiled on Tuesday as the province confirmed the newest recruits for its 2020-21 Academy.
Seven players, all members of the unbeaten Ireland Under-20 Six Nations squad that was chasing a repeat Grand Slam prior to the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown, will be entering the Leinster Academy this summer as five graduates move onto senior contracts.
The promotion of Ryan Baird, Harry Byrne, Jack Dunne, Tommy O’Brien, and Dan Sheehan to Leo Cullen’s senior squad was confirmed on June 25 and Leinster Academy manager Noel McNamara announced his first-year intake for 20-21, with wing Niall Comerford, lock Joe McCarthy, hooker John McKee, back-row Sean O’Brien, full-back Max O’Reilly, wing Andrew Smith, and back-row/lock Alex Soroka the newcomers.
McNamara knows them well having selected all seven in his Ireland Under-20 squad for the 2020 Six Nations competition which saw the defending champions win their first three games before the championship was suspended with two matches to play.
"As with any year we are delighted to see a group of young men move on to Senior contracts and we wish those five players the very best of luck,” McNamara said. "Then it’s time to get excited for the next group coming in and seeing how they develop over the coming seasons.
"This morning’s announcement is a hugely special moment for the players and the culmination of a lot of hard work over many years. Of course, the reality is that the hard work is only beginning, but it is important to mark this achievement and for them and their clubs, schools, and families to take pride in what this next step means.
"It is also important to highlight the role played by the coaching team based in the Ken Wall Centre of Excellence and their contribution in developing these players.
"We are very much looking forward to continuing our support to the incoming players in the next stage of their journey with Leinster."
All four provincial academies are set to return to training on July 20 following an announcement from the IRFU last week that will end a standing-down period that began with Ireland’s lockdown in March.
"There will be challenges of course but the set-up in UCD and down in Energia Park in the Ken Wall Centre of Excellence is ready to welcome Academy staff and players in time and safely for the start of training,” McNamara said.
"Everyone recognises that this is a unique situation trying to finish one season, before moving on to another and everyone at Leinster Rugby is committed to playing our part in that going ahead successfully and hopefully the positive news continues over the coming weeks."
Niall Comerford (UCD), Joe McCarthy (DUFC), John McKee (Old Belvedere), Sean O’Brien (UCD RFC), Max O’Reilly (DUFC), Andrew Smith (Clontarf), Alex Soroka (Clontarf).