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Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Prendergast at Ireland training before the Six Nations.
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'I said, 'Yes' before he could even finish the sentence. I'll be forever grateful'
Cian Prendergast has made a huge impact for Connacht after missing out in Leinster.

TWO PHONE CALLS in the space of two days changed everything for Cian Prendergast.

The first one came from Leinster’s then-academy manager, Noel McNamara, and that was the bad news. Kildare man Prendergast’s native province didn’t have an academy spot for him.

But within 48 hours, Prendergast’s phone rang again. This time it was Connacht academy manager Eric Elwood and this was the good news. Elwood wanted to know if Prendergast would come across and join the western province.

“I said, ‘Yes’ before he could even finish the sentence,” says Prendergast of that call during the original lockdown back in April 2020 

“It was probably the best phone call I’ve ever gotten. I’ll be forever grateful for that phone call.”

Things have worked out superbly for Prendergast and for Connacht. Within a few months of arriving, the blindside flanker had made his debut and he went on to earn a senior contract with 10 appearances in his first season with the province.

The 22-year-old has gone to another level during the current campaign, making himself a key man for Connacht and earning himself a call-up to the Ireland squad for a week as a development player ahead of the Six Nations.

It speaks volumes of Prendergast’s ambition that he went to Connacht with the intention of making an instant impact. He wasn’t interested in sitting in the academy for a couple of years before pushing through at senior level.

Having spoken to his parents, Mark and Ciara, who were high-ranking army officers, Prendergast’s aim was to make an early impression last season.

cian-prendergast-celebrates-after-the-game Laszlo Geczo / INPHO The 22-year-old has been brilliant for Connacht. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“I had a couple of conversations with my parents, academy is obviously three years, and they said, ‘Listen, don’t go down and expect to wait your turn. Go in there and try to put your best foot forward. Don’t wait, just go as hard as you can straight away.’

“Luckily enough, I got an opportunity to do that pre-season with the senior squad straight away which was a good opportunity for me and I just really enjoyed it. It was a good experience for me.

“Everyone’s been so accommodating and willing to work with me. It has been incredible for me.”

6ft 5ins Prendergast has a younger brother, Sam, who is also a good rugby player. The pair of them came through Newbridge College in Kildare and out-half Sam is now with Lansdowne. Like Cian before him, he’s been part of Leinster’s underage pipeline and has even been training with the senior Leinster team this week.

The Prendergast brothers, who also have a sister, Lara, weren’t rugby players right from the start but that changed in Newbridge.

“We used to watch rugby when we were younger, we’d watch all the Ireland games and all the major club games, like when Munster and Leinster were winning Heineken Cups and Connacht won the Pro12 in 2016,” says Cian.

“We watched all those events but we only really started playing rugby fully and seriously when we went to Newbridge College. I went in 2012 and I think Sam was 2015.

“That’s when we started playing rugby full-time. In Newbridge College, you’re training five days a week, it’s fairly intense from the start and it’s great. We knew how to play and we took it and ran in Newbridge.

“We actually got to train together in lockdown as well, which was good. He had just made the Senior Cup final but that was cancelled so we trained together hoping that we’d get a call from someone that we would be in some sort of representative side.

irelands-cian-prendergast-celebrates-after-the-game Billy Stickland / INPHO Prendergast with his father, Mark, after an Ireland U20s game. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“It has been good to have him there because he’s probably trying to go on the same journey as well.”

Cian initially played in the backline in school but soon moved into the pack, playing in the second row or back row. He marked himself out as a prospect and went on to play for the Ireland U20s in their Covid-curtailed 2020 Six Nations campaign.

His hopes of advancing from the Leinster sub-academy into the full academy were soon dashed, but it’s a decision Prendergast says he understands.

“I got that phone call from Noel McNamara and he said there was no place in the academy for me, which was understandable – it’s competitive in the back row all over the world, there’s back rows everywhere.

“He said they didn’t have a spot for me and so I didn’t know what I was going to do.

“And then I got the phone call from Eric.”

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With an Ireland training camp already under his belt, as well as a string of standout performances in the number six jersey for Connacht, things have worked out very well for Prendergast.

And it has all worked out superbly for Connacht given Prendergast’s ongoing impact in the back row.

“His determination and ambition is something that we’d look to promote,” says Connacht senior coach Peter Wilkins.

“And I think if it’s channeled in a really positive way of improving yourself and trying to make the best of every opportunity you get, that’s really effective.

“Paul Boyle was another one before who had similar determination when he first came into an academy contract [after missing out in Leinster] and as a result found himself in that senior squad very quickly in the scheme of things.

sam-prendergast Bryan Keane / INPHO Cian's younger brother, Sam, is also a talented player. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

“So to channel ambition positively towards self-development and towards work ethic, their potential really thrives on the back of that. If it’s coming in banging on the head coach’s door from day one saying, ‘You’ve got to pick me,’ that’s very different.

“So I think when you channel that in a constructive way, that’s part of the reason that Cian has had that success. He trained with us in that first pre-season as an academy lad.

“He went about his work quietly but very determinedly and very diligently and he stood out, there was an added athleticism about him and he had an abrasiveness around the contact work. He just got on with the job and worked really hard.

“Those guys stand out in a group and he was somebody we wanted to bring in and work with us more regularly, pretty quickly.”

Originally published at 08.00

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