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Dublin: 8°C Thursday 25 February 2021

'You've a bit of imposter syndrome beside Cian Healy or Johnny Sexton, guys you've been watching for years'

From Ballina to Blackrock, Gaelic football and soccer to stunning rugby exploits with Leinster and Ireland, Caelan Doris maps his rise.

THE CRAZY YEAR that is 2020 afforded Caelan Doris the unexpected opportunity to go back to his roots for a good stint of time.

caelan-doris Caelan Doris has enjoyed an impressive rise. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Back to the sticks in Mayo, to the rural area of Lacken he calls home. Rooted twenty minutes or so from Ballina, Doris enjoyed the time with his family and pets, living the simple life he once did before making the big move to Dublin for boarding school.

The local beach provided a picturesque setting for individual training and likely, for reflection at times. While the Covid-19 crisis played havoc around the world — and he acknowledges just how tough it has been for people — Doris enjoyed life in his own little bubble, focusing on family and making the most of a rare break from rugby.

Ever since leaving Lacken and pitching up in the capital as he started in Blackrock College, life has been all go for Doris. And pretty much all about rugby.

A talented Gaelic football and soccer player growing up, the 22-year-old fell in love with the oval ball game at Ballina RFC, and carved his path from there. They were his main three sports, he thoroughly enjoyed playing them all but admittedly, “rugby was always a little bit above”.

Apart from a flying visit back to his GAA background the odd summer when he was home or a few games in school, it’s been rugby ever since. “Potentially in the future, I don’t know,” he grins when a return to Gaelic football or soccer some day is put to him. “We’ll see how things pan out.”

Things have been panning out pretty well at Leinster and Ireland since those Blackrock days he enjoyed alongside his older brother, Rian.

Retracing the journey brings a smile to his face. He vaguely remembers discussions with his parents, but it was Rian’s influence that ultimately brought him through the doors of Blackrock College.

“My brother was two years above me so he sort of led the way,” Doris explains.

“He really wanted to go to boarding school. He was actually originally in King’s Hospital, and then moved across to Blackrock for third year when I came into first year so we both moved in together.

I loved it from the very start. I remember describing it to my parents as a six-year sleepover, which it wasn’t quite that but it was very enjoyable. I loved all of it and I think it was great from a rugby development as well.

“Not just the sort of more formal training and matches but also just the boarding aspect, playing tip in the between study breaks and always having a rugby ball around.”

While Rian played in King’s Hospital, a non-rugby-related head injury ruled him out of the game and cruelly ended his Blackrock school career before it even started.

caelan-doris Caelan playing in the 2013 Leinster Junior Cup final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“He actually had some pretty negative symptoms and effects for years after, but thankfully he’s all good now,” Caelan says. “For three or four years, he sort of got flu-like symptoms if he exercised, even if he ran or lifted weights.

“It was actually going down a water slide when we were on holidays in Croatia, he hit his head off the bottom so it was pretty severe. Thankfully, he’s all good now.”

That’s something that has stayed with Doris — who’s suffered a concussion injury or two himself — through his own sporting journey. One that really took flight at ‘Rock.

The memories come flooding back. Junior Cup, Senior Cup, even before that when he was a shy youngster watching from afar with flags, banners and posters, wanting to be right in the thick of the action.

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The younger of the brothers flew the family flag and made a real name for himself as he climbed the ranks. He fondly recalls winning the Leinster Junior Cup in third year as the school completed a dream double, following the stunning exploits of a certain sixth year, Garry Ringrose, at Senior Cup level.

“Guys like him, I would have sort of looked up to and wanted to follow in their tracks.”

He did just that, and soon found himself in the same Leinster set-up as Ringrose after being called up from the academy to train with the senior squad.

His former schoolmate provided a welcome familiar face on day one, among players he had grown up watching, supporting and even idolising.

I just remember my first few days being in the building with them as an academy player. It’s kind of surreal in the way you’ve got a bit of imposter syndrome, eating beside Cian Healy or Johnny Sexton, guys you’ve been watching for 10 or 15 years on the TV and suddenly you’re there beside them.

“But I think after a couple of weeks, you realise that they’re all down-to-earth guys, you know them and you’re a fan of them because they’re good at rugby, not because they’re aliens or anything like that.

“It takes few days or a few weeks to adjust but you come to realise that they’re all sound guys.”

cian-healy-and-johnny-sexton-celebrate-after-winning-the-guinness-pro14-final Cian Healy and Johnny Sexton. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Doris and Ringrose, Healy and Sexton are now not only team-mates at Leinster, but in Andy Farrell’s Ireland set-up since his first call-up earlier this year.

And fittingly, while Doris was nominated for Zurich Irish Rugby Players’ Nevin Spence Young Player of the Year award yesterday, Ringrose was in the running for the senior gong.

It’s a pretty nice way to come full circle and a reason to reflect on his meteoric rise so far, but one thing’s for sure, Doris is ready to push on. All these little things just come as motivation, and a reminder as to why he does what he does.

“It’s cool,” the Mayo man concludes of the nomination ahead of a busy end to 2020. “It’s sort of a nice recognition of a lot of the hard work that’s gone in over the last few years.

“And all the support I’ve had from friends and family, and also the environment we have in Leinster and the team as a whole, how well we’ve gone and how we’re developing over the last few years. It’s nice recognition of all that.”

Caelan Doris announced the nominees for the 2020 Zurich Irish Rugby Players Awards alongside Louise Galvin yesterday.

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Emma Duffy

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