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Munster product O'Shea powering Warriors' drive for Premiership promotion

The 22-year-old’s career started with hometown club Crosshaven and has taken him to the English Championship.

FROM UNDERAGE SUCCESS to academy deal to development contract to fringe squad member to Pro12 regular; the professional pathway in Irish rugby is well worn at this stage.

Darren O'Shea Darren O'Shea is striving for promotion with Worcester. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

There is the odd outlier of course, the youngster who is catapulted directly into first-team action or even international contention before their ‘time,’ but the majority of young Irish players are forced to sit patiently in the backlog.

Some fade away, while others are eventually rewarded for their long wait. Darren O’Shea has opted for another route altogether.

A year into his time with Munster’s academy the Crosshaven man decided he could succeed by looking elsewhere, and is now part of Worcester Warriors’ drive for promotion back into the English Premiership.

The Dean Ryan-directed outfit are just three points behind Championship leaders Bristol after their 10-try 69-8 win on the road against the Cornish Pirates yesterday, a game that O’Shea started in the second row.

The final day of the regular season next weekend sees O’Shea’s Worcester host Bristol in a top-of-the-table clash, but the likelihood is that the pair will have to face each other again in the promotion play-off final.

“We’re all buzzing for the run in to the play-offs and we’re trying to add to our game each week,” says O’Shea.

The lock’s rugby journey started with a talented Crosshaven RFC underage group coached by Mossy Barry and featuring the likes of current Dolphin men Cian McGovern, James Rochford and Killian O’Keeffe.

Paul OÕConnell and Darren O'Shea O'Shea wins the ball over Paul O'Connell in 2014. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

O’Shea played his underage rugby with his hometown club all the way up to U19 level, and was capped by Munster Youths, before a brief switch to Cork Constitution and then on to taste senior rugby with Dolphin.

The 6ft 9ins specimen was part of the Munster sub-academy while he was still at school, though back disc and knee injuries meant he had to serve three years at that level before Peter Malone signed him on full academy terms in 2013.

A year later, O’Shea had signed for Worcester.

“Basically all I wanted was a bit of game time and the six British and Irish Cup games a year was what I wanted more of, at a higher level. So I decided if I wanted to take the next step I needed to look abroad.

Munster wanted me to stay in the academy for another year and see how it went. They were very happy with how I was developing, but at the end of the day I wanted to play games and get my name out there a bit more, so I made the decision to go.”

O’Shea linked up with agent Niall Woods, a former Ireland international, whereafter the opportunity at Worcester came up and the lock was presented with a deal that greatly appealed.

“I flew over and met with Dean Ryan and the other coaches,” says O’Shea. “They sat me down and were chatting about the vision for the future and about the change the team was going to have.

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“They weren’t doing too well in the Premiership at the time and obviously the team got relegated in the end, but they were changing the squad to target younger players that wanted an opportunity and wanted games.”

Darren O'Shea makes a break O'Shea on the rampage for Munster 'A' against Stirling County. Source: Alex Todd/INPHO

O’Shea, who was involved with Ireland at U19 and U20 levels, was firmly in that bracket and penned a two-year deal with a stated ambition of featuring in the Premiership within that timeframe.

There was a degree of nervousness at leaving his home province, particularly as his move was not something “people traditionally did in Munster.” However, there are no regrets now after a season in which O’Shea has played 15 times and also scored two tries so far.

Ryan and forwards coach Carl Hogg, ex-internationals for England and Scotland respectively, have been able to nurture O’Shea’s pre-existing talent, helping the 22-year-old to develop his technical skills and lineout work.

The latter is particularly useful as O’Shea has been calling the set-piece for the Warriors.

The minute we move on to who we’re playing next in the fixture list, we’d be analysing their lineout and setting a lineout menu for what we’re going to use against them or what might work against them,” says O’Shea of that task.

“The callers come together and we’ll have a conversation about it. I was lucky enough to have picked up bits and pieces from the likes of Paul O’Connell and Dave Foley at Munster, and that helps over here.”

O’Shea admits he has already surpassed the individual targets he set himself at the outset of the move in terms of game time, but the most important thing is being in the Premiership next year.

Darren O'Shea celebrates with Niall Horan O'Shea in action for Munster 'A'. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The whole club is focused on that.

The Championship format sees first finisher in the table play fourth over two aggregated semi-final legs, while the second-placed does the same against third. A two-legged final then follows for the honour of a spot in the Premiership. It’s far from decided yet.

Off the pitch, O’Shea is enjoying living with fellow Irishman Niall Annett, formerly of Ulster, while his girlfriend and old buddies from Crosshaven have been regular visitors to the West Midlands city.

Priority number one is a return to the top tier of English rugby, and Worcester’s giant Irish lock is not losing focus.

“We’re hoping, not taking it for granted, but hoping to be back in the top flight next year,” says O’Shea. “We just have to take it week by week.”

It’s only the beginning of O’Shea’s career in truth, but he’s already proven he’s not one for waiting around.

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Murray Kinsella

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