There is no such thing as an overnight star in professional rugby, the game is just too tough and the talent thick on the ground. That said, Craig Casey’s rise from Munster debutant to Ireland squad member in just 21 months has been pretty spectacular.
Still only 21, Casey has already established himself as a firm favourite with Munster supporters for his livewire persona on the field while in the narrow timeframe since a first senior cap off the bench against Connacht in April 2019 he has emerged as Conor Murray’s heir apparent at Thomond Park.
The pair of Limerick scrum-halves dovetail neatly, with the 2019 U20 Grand Slam winner bringing a wonderful injection of pace off the bench when providing bench cover for Murray, while Casey is a confident, reliable and assured starter in his own right, his slight stature and youthfulness belying an authority behind his pack.
That has long been in evidence, not least in his leadership role as the Ireland U20s swept to the 2019 Grand Slam under head coach Noel McNamara, who made Casey a squad vice-captain, started him against France, Italy and England, and reaped the bonus of his number nine scoring a couple of tries.
He was Munster’s academy player of the year before the season was out and that PRO14 debut at Thomond Park was followed by promotion to a development contract for last season, during which the Shannon player made three starts in nine appearances.
Casey, whose father Ger is a Munster Rugby development officer and uncle is former Munster back Mossy Lawler, progressed to senior deal this season and got 2020-21 off to a flyer by starting the first six games of the PRO14 campaign while Murray was on Ireland duty in October and November. Now the two Munster scrum-halves will be together in a Six Nations camp with Leinster’s Jamison Gibson-Park the other number nine and likely to continue as a matchday deputy for Murray.
Casey’s call-up by Andy Farrell, though, is all the more significant for the number nines omitted. One of two uncapped players alongside Ulster tighthead prop Tom O’Toole, 22, the Limerick nine was preferred ahead of the experienced John Cooney, Luke McGrath and Kieran Marmion, which tells you all you need to know about Ireland’s direction under this head coach.
Less than three years out from the next World Cup, Casey could launch his bid for that over the next six or seven weeks. And who knows, by the end of the championship, he may not just be Murray’s successor in Munster.