It’s the job of the Ireland U20s coach to push and prod the players of tomorrow further down the development line but Noel McNamara found himself talking about one from the past yesterday.
It was inevitable really.
On hand in Dublin city centre to announce the squad for what will be his first Six Nations in this particular hot seat, McNamara wouldn’t have been surprised when the conversation swung towards one Mr Paul O’Connell.
Former Ireland women’s coach Tom Tierney is chipping in as defence coach and Ambrose Conboy is in charge of the scrum but the addition of the former Munster, Ireland, and Lions captain to the ticket last month was the appointment that got everyone talking.
Mentioned ad nauseum as a man who could one day be the big boss with Munster, O’Connell has been at pains to say he is somewhat tentative about dipping his toe in the coaching waters since his retirement from the game in 2015.
An advisory role with the Munster academy has been his deepest immersion yet — and he was unavailable to the 20s at the start of this season with other commitments — but McNamara rates him as “a huge addition to the coaching group”.
McNamara had tried and failed to get O’Connell involved when he was coaching the U18s for a few seasons but the 38-year-old was far more receptive this time around.
O’Connell’s reputation may be immense but McNamara described a humble character keen to point out he was there to absorb lessons as well as impart them. This will not be a case of one legend overpowering the collective.
“No, I don’t think so. Of course, he has got a great standing and he has a good standing amongst the players but the reality is these guys have been involved in rugby for quite a while themselves.
“We have a lot of guys who have experienced some high-end coaching already. You look at someone like Jonny Stewart: He played for the Ulster senior side. He’s been working with Les Kiss and Jon Gibbes.
“You look at Tommy O’Brien and Ronan Kelleher. These guys have been involved with the Leinster senior side so would have experienced Stuart Lancaster and so on. They have got a pretty good grounding.”
The Ireland squad McNamara named yesterday features 11 players who played U20s in either the Six Nations or Junior World Cup last year.
Leinster’s Tommy O’Brien will captain the side from centre.
First up for them all is a meeting with France at the Stade Amedee Domenech in Brive next Friday night.
IRELAND U20 Six Nations squad:
Forwards (18): J Aungier (St. Mary’s /Leinster), M Agnew (Ballymena/Ulster) D Barron (Garryowen /Munster), J Byrne (Dublin University /Leinster), R Coffey (Shannon /Munster), M Dalton (Malone /Ulster), C Daly (Clontarf /Leinster), J Duggan (Naas /Leinster), J Dunne (Dublin University /Leinster), J Dunleavy (Malone /Ulster), J French (UCC /Munster), A Hall (Ballynahinch /Ulster), M Kearney (Dublin University /Leinster), R Kelleher (Lansdowne /Leinster), S Masterson (Corinthians /Connacht), J O’Sullivan (UCC /Munster), T O’Toole (Banbridge /Ulster), C Ryan (UCD /Leinster). Backs (14): H Byrne (UCD /Leinster), AC urtis (Queen’s University /Ulster), C Dean (St. Mary’s /Leinster), C Hayes (Young Munster /Munster), M Keane (Queen’s University), A Kernohan (Ballymena /Ulster), D McCarthy (Garryowen /Munster), J McCarthy (UL Bohemian /Munster), S O’Brien (Clontarf /Leinster), T O’Brien (UCD /Leinster), H O’Sullivan (Clontarf /Leinster), J Stewart (Queen’s University /Ulster), M Silvester (Dublin University /Leinster), P Sullivan (Lansdowne /Leinster).
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