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'Now he needs to use that and when he gets his chance to play, to nail it'

Tiernan O’Halloran has been saving up lots of lessons with Ireland in recent times.

LAST SEASON HAD many highlights for Connacht, but chief among them was getting seven players into Ireland squads during the campaign.

The western province even had five players on the pitch at one stage, a first in their history and a seriously proud moment for Kieran Marmion, Robbie Henshaw, Ultan Dillane, Nathan White and Finlay Bealham against Italy.

Kieran Marmion, Nathan White, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane and Robbie Henshaw celebrate The five Connacht men helped Ireland to beat Italy. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The current campaign has been a far tougher one for Connacht, meaning individuals have had less opportunity to impress Joe Schmidt, so to have five players selected for Ireland’s tour of the US and Japan is a boost.

‘Grassroots to green shirts’ is the Connacht mantra, and to see Marmion, Dave Heffernan, John Cooney, Bealham and Tiernan O’Halloran given the call by Schmidt is satisfying for the province.

With one spot still remaining in Ireland’s squad, to be decided after this weekend’s action, second row Dillane may feature on the tour as well, meaning an encouraging Connacht contingent.

I think it’s a good time for those guys, for Connacht rugby, for their families,” said Pat Lam this week, as the province prepared for tomorrow’s Champions Cup qualification play-off against Northampton.

“To have five in there is great and hopefully the extra spot could be one of our guys as well. If we can get six, that would be great as well.

“Five is a really strong number for us and particularly with the season we had. We had seven last year off the back of a really good season, so that’s a good news story.”

Each of the Connacht men will have their own individual aims on this tour, with Ballina man Heffernan hoping for his first cap after an impressive journey from the back row to making an Ireland squad as a hooker.

Marmion will be eager for chances to start in the absence of Conor Murray and Bealham will be hungry for just his second Test start, while fullback O’Halloran is looking for his third.

Ireland’s Tiernan O’Halloran O'Halloran scored two tries against Canada in November. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

O’Halloran is a player whose absence from Ireland’s matchday squads has confused many rugby supporters, particularly with his attacking quality having been so obvious in Connacht colours.

While the fullback still has work to do on his defensive game, the upcoming tour is a fine opportunity to impress Schmidt. Simon Zebo is a strong contender for the 15 shirt too, while Jacob Stockdale also plays there, but O’Halloran will feel he is ready to make his mark.

“Yeah I think so, that’s the challenge for Tiernan,” said Lam when asked if O’Halloran is ready to start for Ireland again. “He’s been consistent all year. The thing I like about it, everyone says, ‘Why is he not there?’ but Tiernan goes in and he is giving everything.

He is 24th man, being part of the squad, lapping it all up, learning, coming back and being a real leader here as well. It’s a good example that when you get knocked back, you are just waiting for your chance.

“All you can control is day to day and keep working at it. Now he needs to use that and when he gets his chance to play, to nail it. We all have a lot of confidence that Tiernan and the other four boys who are in there will do a good job on the tour.”

Not to forget Cooney, who is Ulster-bound this summer after what he hopes will be a first Ireland cap.

The 27-year-old was a Heineken Cup winner with Leinster before joining Connacht in 2014, initially on loan, but has been stunted by injuries at key times in recent year.

Next season he will have the opportunity to finally nail down a spot as a first-choice scrum-half for Ulster and Schmidt clearly believes in his potential.

John Muldoon and John Cooney after the game Cooney is heading to Ulster this summer. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

While Connacht will be saying farewell to Cooney shortly, Lam is pleased to see his hard work rewarded with a touring spot to the US and Japan.

“He has been patient, he has had a few injuries. He has got that goal-kicking option as well, so it’s great both halfbacks going down,” said Lam.

“I know it was tough for John to leave us next year. But for the sake of Irish Rugby, we have the ideal spread now, with Kieran here, John [at Ulster], Luke [McGrath at Leinster], Conor [Murray at Munster].”

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