THERE IS MORE than one young Irish player at Grenoble trying to make his way in professional rugby.
After James Hart shot to fame in France and Ireland thanks to his superb 16-point, man of the match display for the club against Racing Metro last weekend, there is another young Irishman hoping to make an impact for Grenoble this week.
Shane O’Leary joined the club’s academy during the summer from All-Ireland League side Young Munster. Just as Hart had benefited from a previous relationship with Bernard Jackman to secure a deal with the Top 14 side, O’Leary was brought to the club by skills coach Mike Prendergast, who is also in his first season in the Rhône-Alpes.
The out-half/centre made his debut for Young Munster under Prendergast, having represented Munster at U20 level. O’Leary spent the early part of the summer representing Canada at the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy, helping his team to the final and finishing as top points scorer of the tournament with 45.
The Clare native qualified to play for Canada through his mother’s roots in New Brunswick and, having been ignored for honours with Ireland, decided to seek out the opportunity to play international rugby elsewhere.
His move to Grenoble following that tournament now looks to be paying off. O’Leary has been included in the 23-man squad for the Amlin Challenge Cup opener against French rivals Bayonne on Thursday night. So far the 20-year-old has only turned out for Grenoble’s Espoirs team (under-23), meaning he is hoping for his professional debut.
Following on from Hart’s recent example, O’Leary’s achievement highlights the opportunities and possibilities for young Irish players who miss out on the provincial academies. The Amlin Challenge Cup pool stages are rarely of great interest to Irish rugby fans, but this Thursday’s clash between Grenoble and Bayonne will be worth keeping an eye on.