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From back row to front row, Connacht's Tierney-Martin enjoying the journey

The Ireland U20s hooker has made huge strides in recent years.

WHILE CONNACHT’S RESURGENCE under Andy Friend has seen six players from the western province called into Ireland’s Six Nations squad, there is further evidence of the excellent work being done out west in the underage ranks.

Four of Ireland’s U20 Six Nations panel are products of the Connacht schools and club system, including flanker-turned-hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin, who is in the first year of the academy at the Sportsground.

Dylan Tierney-Martin Ireland U20 hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Having represented Ireland at the U20 World Championship last summer, Tierney-Martin is one of just five players in Noel McNamara’s squad already capped at this level and is hoping to make a big impact in this year’s Six Nations.

The 19-year-old was surprised to receive a late call-up for the tournament in France last June having only recently made the switch from the back row to the front row, but — much like Andrew Porter when he converted from loosehead to tighthead — it was a beneficial learning curve.

“Last year for me was bizarre,” he smiles. “I had just transitioned to hooker. I didn’t really have many expectations for the year. I played British and Irish Cup [for Connacht] and had a lot of really good experiences with the Connacht Eagles.

“From there I got selected for the Ireland U19s. It was a really nice time for me and my family because a couple of years ago I missed out on Irish U18s as a number seven and that was hard.

“One day I was about to go into my exam in college. I saw the missed call and I said I would leave it. I sat my exam and came back out, answered the phone and they asked me would I be able to come to the warm-up game against Scotland. It was a really big surprise but it was lovely.”

The Galway native traces his rugby-playing days back to heading down to Corinthians RFC at the age of five with his father, although it wasn’t something he particularly liked at first.

“I absolutely hated rugby until I was 11,” Tierney-Martin laughs.

“I didn’t like the contact but Dad was like ‘no, you’re doing it, you’re doing it.’ It just clicked one day and I started loving it, from there I was into Connacht with the U14s.

“I was a seven the whole way through until the start of last year and they told me I was too short. They didn’t tell me I was too fat but I think that was a little bit of it as well.”

Dylan Tierney The teenager is hoping to impress in this year's U20 Six Nations. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Tierney-Martin stood out in schools rugby in the back row of St Joseph’s Patrician College, where he was coached by Ambrose Conboy, who is now part of Noel McNamara’s U20s coaching staff .

He has since changed positions but the hooker’s performances in the number two jersey earned him a place in the Connacht academy back in September, which has undoubtedly helped his development.

“The Sportsground, it’s absolutely brilliant,” he says. “Andy Friend has made a huge difference. I haven’t been involved in the seniors but it is a much more friendly place for an academy player. The seniors are pushing you to push them. 

“I have done a lot of work over the last year and a half with Dave Heffernan, picking his brain throw-wise. He is a really good player and helped me a lot to progress throwing with him week in, week out.” 

Just over a week out from the 2019 Six Nations openers, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey are joined by Bernard Jackman to look at Ireland’s bid for another Grand Slam:

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Ryan Bailey

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