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'Playing for Connacht shouldn't be a reason why you can't play for Ireland'

Cillian Gallagher takes heart from seeing five of his fellow Connacht men wear the green of Ireland.

Ireland U20s forward Cillian Gallagher.
Ireland U20s forward Cillian Gallagher.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THESE ARE HEADY times for Connacht rugby and the province’s success is being felt across the board, not just at senior level.

The sport out west is riding the crest of the wave with last weekend’s resounding victory over Italy proving to be a significant juncture in the club’s history.

By the final whistle at the Aviva Stadium, Connacht had five players on the pitch in the green of Ireland for the first time.

Regardless of provincial affiliation, it was a hugely satisfying day as the year’s of hard work manifested itself into representative honours – and another one of Connacht’s exciting young talents believes it’s only the start of the green shoots from the west.

Cillian Gallagher is one of three Sligo players in the Ireland U20s squad and says there’s now no reason why Connacht can’t account for a large amount of players on the international stage.

“Going forward it’s definitely something to aim for,” the second-row said. “Five Connacht men at the end of 80 minutes on the pitch playing for Ireland there is no reason why not from now on.

Cillian Gallagher Gallagher (right) in action for Connacht Eagles against Jersey. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“Someone like Ultan [Dillane] is mad like, he is some man the way he’s progressed onwards and onwards.

“Only a year ago or a year and a half ago he was getting his first cap for Connach. I remember watching him come on and now the fact that he has got a call up to the squad and because of injuries or whatever he has got a call up to the starting team and he has proven why he is there because of his performances have shown it.

“These lads [U20 team-mates] will never let you go for it the fact that you are from Connacht. I don’t think it is going to make much difference going forward. Playing for Connacht shouldn’t be a reason why you can’t play for Ireland or even compete.”

Last weekend’s landmark added further gloss to Connacht’s already unprecedented season and highlighted the extraordinary work being done by Pat Lam to conduct this resurgence.

But there has also been a focus on underage level with Robbie Henshaw, Ultan Dillane, Nathan White, Kieran Marmion and Finlay Bealham demonstrating there is a pathway from Galway to the top.

19-year-old Gallagher, who only took up the sport six years ago, has featured throughout the Connacht Eagles’ B&I Cup campaign this term and has so far impressed for Ireland.

He once again starts for Nigel Carolan’s side in tomorrow’s final game against Scotland and feels he’s performed well during his first experience of the U20s set-up.

Cillian Gallagher The Sligo native has impressed for Ireland over the last number of weeks. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Yeah, it’s been good for me,” the Sligo native continues. “I suppose I’m a year young so anything that’s going well for me is a bonus.

“I want to keep pushing on and trying and be the best I can be for next year and going on for this year. Looking to finish out the Six Nations strong on a personal note and on a team note and then look at the World Cup.”

On the face of it, Friday’s clash with the Scots at Donnybrook hasn’t much to offer in the context of this championship but Gallagher is acutely aware of its significance with the World Cup just around the corner.

Ireland have been drawn alongside New Zealand, Wales and Georgia for the tournament in England but he is confident the team can finish strong and head into June with momentum.

“Handy group, a very handy group,” Gallagher jokes. “Wales we will play them again and get them back. New Zealand will be great craic and I hate Georgia. I lost to Georgia at schools last year, we lost on penalty kicks to Georgia.

“They [Georgia] are men like, the difference between 18s and 20s is a big step up but back then they were nearly U20s playing at U18s. They were big boys.

“I suppose there’s always that kind of thing, Ireland players are not big enough. We are bigger than usual but teams, especially I noticed against France, they are big like but yeah it’s not all about the size but it definitely helps when it comes to some things.

“We are definitely a tall side, height in particular in the back five and when we have a front row like we do, they all played last year and they are experienced.

“We have a good balance and we are gelling more and more.”

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Ryan Bailey

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