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'I got a phone call two days before the World Cup saying I was due to travel'

Ireland U20s hooker Diarmuid Barron is enjoying working with Paul O’Connell.

GARRYOWEN MAN DIARMUID Barron is hoping that his second season with the Ireland U20s lasts considerably longer than his first.

The hooker was a late call-up for last summer’s World Rugby U20 Championship after Ireland dropped Tadgh McElroy.

Diarmuid Barron Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Barron, still an U19 player at that point, was called in without much advance notice.

“It was a late stage,” says the Munster man. “I got a phone call two days before going to the World Cup saying that I was due to travel with them.”

Having scrambled to get his belongings packed and link up with the Ireland squad, Barron then had to deal with the frustration of his bag not turning up when they arrived in Georgia.

“It went missing,” says Barron with a smile. “I was there for about six days and for four of those days, I was without a bag. I had to go shopping in the middle of Georgia, looking for clothes, which was an experience!”

While the bag did eventually arrive, Barron’s whirlwind adventure was cut short when he broke his thumb just 20 minutes into his debut against Italy.

Despite the crazy circumstances of it all, the former Rockwell College captain says linking up with Ireland was a good experience and gave him some expectations for his return to the U20s fold this season under new coach Noel McNamara.

“It was great to get that bit of experience but obviously I was hoping to get back in the squad this year,” says Barron.

“You want to be in there playing as much as you can. I’m trying to… not just get to the same stage, but trying to get even better.”

Mikey Wilson and Diarmuid Barron celebrate after the game Barron captained Rockwell to a Munster Schools Senior Cup title in 2015. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Unfortunately for Barron, his bad luck didn’t end with that broken thumb. A month after returning from the injury, the hooker tore ligaments in his ankle and spent another seven weeks out of the game.

He made his comeback with the Ireland U20s against a Munster Development side and has played an AIL game and Senior Cup fixture for Garryowen as he rebuilt his fitness, and will now hope to be involved as the U20s take on France on Friday night in Bordeaux.

With McNamara having taken over from Nigel Carolan as the U20s head coach and a new staff around him, it has been all change behind the scenes.

Barron is particularly enjoying working with new forwards coach Paul O’Connell, having had some experience of doing so with the Munster academy last season.

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“His reputation speaks for itself,” says Barron. “You know what you’re going to get with him. He’s been brilliant, his knowledge of the game is brilliant. It’s great to work with people like that so they can pass on what they have learned over the years.

“He’s obviously been in a lot of high-pressure situations so he can pass that on.

“He’s technically very good, I think that goes without saying really. He was one of the best players in the world so it’s great from the mental point of view as well.”

Noel McNamara with Paul O'Connell O'Connell has made a good impression on the U20s group. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

O’Connell’s guidance could be important for the U20s, who have lost key man and number eight Caelan Doris to injury for the entire Six Nations.

Barron admits it’s disappointing to be without Doris, who was superb for the U20s last year, but says he is excited about seeing other back rows step up to show their quality.

Barron himself has a fierce battle with Ronan Kelleher – another who played for the U20s last year – ahead in the hooker position, but they will hope to bring the best out of each other.

While it has generally been perceived that backs – for example, Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale – are better positioned to make swift steps up to senior provincial and Test rugby after playing for the U20s, the likes of Andrew Porter and James Ryan are showing the way for young forwards.

While the two Leinster men are obviously unique athletic specimens, they do provide some inspiration for the next generation of U20s.

“Those guys are all physically developed to play at that level,” says Barron. “Having played against some of them, I played with James last year when he came down and played at Munster before he went to Japan, you can see how they go about things.

“I think that gap is closing, which is good.”

- This article was updated at 1.05pm to correct the venue for Friday night’s clash with France from ‘Brive’ to ‘Bordeaux’.

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