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'I’m proud of what I’ve done, but there’s still so much more to be achieved'

Hugo Keenan is looking forward to a big summer of rugby, whether with Ireland or the Lions.

Leinster fullback Hugo Keenan.
Leinster fullback Hugo Keenan.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

ON THE MORNING of 6 May, Hugo Keenan couldn’t help but feel a small bit of hope.

He hadn’t been on the 50-strong list of players who received an email from Warren Gatland to sound out their availability for the British and Lions tour, but the Leinster and Ireland fullback had been in good form, moving from Ireland debutant to nailed-on starter in the space of just a few months  – playing every minute of the 2021 Six Nations.

Yet when Gatland named his 37-man touring squad, Keenan found himself in the same boat as Leinster teammates Johnny Sexton, James Ryan, Garry Ringrose and Josh van der Flier.

“Well I had never gotten any word about it, no email or anything like that, so you can always hope and dream,” Keenan says.

In fairness that back three that was picked, there were no real surprises in it. It was probably the one most people were predicting. I suppose to even be mentioned as a possibility… Like, a year ago I would never have thought it would have been possible so I suppose you have to take that sort of as a positive, but you never know what might happen over the next few weeks with injuries and what not.

“I’ll just worry about this game, keep going and hopefully get selected for that Irish tour.”

Keenan has responded to the news well. In his first run-out following the Lions squad announcement, he bagged a first hat-trick since his days playing 7s as Leinster thrashed Connacht in Galway.

He knows there is still plenty to play for. He’s sure to feature for Ireland in the summer Tests against Japan and the USA, while Leinster boss Leo Cullen has already highlighted the possibility of Keenan getting a late call up to join the party in South Africa.

“I don’t think that (late call up) should be your motivation really,” Keenan says. “It’s just a tiny, tiny chance.

hugo-keenan-makes-a-break Keenan has enjoyed a superb season with both club and country. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“There are other personal motivators, things going on, pushing for selection in Leinster and Ireland which will keep driving you on. Also, just wanting to go out and enjoy the rugby. That will keep you going.”

Speaking over Zoom following a Leinster training session in rare sunshine, Keenan is in good form. Part of that is down to the weather, part of it down to Chelsea’s Champions League final win on Saturday night.

Leinster have a maximum of three games left in their season, and despite a disappointing end to their Champions Cup campaign, the last year has been the stuff of dreams for the 24-year-old.

“Yeah, I can’t say I was expecting this season,” he continues.

It’s been so unpredictable, it’s been a mad couple of months. I’m proud of what I’ve done so far but there’s still so much more to be achieved. It’s been a lot of highs and lows this season. There’s been a few tough losses. Internationally, before the Autumn Nations Cup, say that France game sticking out where we could have won a Six Nations, and then a tough start to the Six Nations just gone, against Wales and France, and then the La Rochelle game obviously.

“It’s had its lows but it’s been a great learning experience. It’s been great to be involved in the teams. I can’t say I was expecting it, so it’s been good.”

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Having enjoyed a two-week break Leinster are back in action with a trip to play Glasgow on Friday night, followed by the final home game of the season one week later, which will include the return of 1,200 supporters to the RDS.

“We’ve had a few good 15 v 15 sessions with lads sticking their hand up so nobody is slacking off now. We’re raring to go for Glasgow. When you have that bit of time off and training weeks and stuff, you just want to get back into the matches then.

“Like, it’s been what, 15-16 months since crowds have been in? Everyone’s just looking forward to it so much and hopefully we’ll get the family and friends in and make it extra special, and a bit more enjoyable. Not that the games are boring, but when you’re winning games it’s always so much more enjoyable when you can celebrate with the crowd and even when games get tough and they can get behind you, push you on and drive you on, it actually does really help.

“I don’t have that much experience of it, especially of the bigger stadiums and bigger crowds, so I’m just so looking forward to that.” 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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