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Keenan ready to test his mettle with first taste of Thomond

Leinster’s footballing fullback is intent on shutting out the pressure from the crowd in Limerick.

Image: Gary Carr/INPHO

THE QUESTION ALWAYS comes for young men in Hugo Keenan’s shoes.

Most often, the answer to a query about the preferred position of a young Leinster prospect is the hackneyed and over-humble, ‘I’ll play anywhere’.

Wings will say they’re willing to commit to anywhere from the centre to the front row, if only in jest. Natural opensides offer themselves on the blind and show-running out-halves insist they are content to wait their turn.

So we sit up and take notice when a different answer comes.

“Fullback, definitely,” says Keenan.

There is a quiet assurance about the 22-year-old. Perhaps it’s borne out of the six appearances he has earned during Leinster’s eight-game winning run in the Pro14 so far this season. Maybe it’s just the sporting genes.

Keenan needn’t search far from Leinster’s base for a high-performing relative. His older brother Rob plays in AIL Division 1A with UCD. His cousin Mark Dignam also represents the Students, as a footballer in the Airtricity League. Dignam’s father Keith played for Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers.

Keenan also has solid footballing credentials, but put his promising stint with Mount Merrion Boys in the DDSL Premier Division on the back-burner when he set his focus on making Blackrock College’s Senior Cup team.

He hasn’t looked back.

“I was on the lower ranked (rugby teams) in school. I wasn’t getting near the first team so I was always concentrating on football.

“It was only in fifth year, 16, 17 that I started focusing on rugby. You want to make the SCT team in Blackrock so I stopped playing football in my final year and just focused on that. That’s how it kicked off and how I made Leinster 19s.

“Unfortunately I haven’t played football since.”

But the football is still in him. His engine from his time as a central midfielder, his well-timed leap from his move to play centre back.

Keenan has also reaped the benefits of his other crossover sport, a run with Ireland men’s sevens side.

“It was great for me, the Sevens. It gave me great exposure at international level at a time when in here (Leinster) I probably wouldn’t have gotten that many shots.

“It was about honing in on skills that I wanted to improve on. You get so many involvements on the ball; your passing, tackling, everything has to be on point with Sevens because you can’t get away with it. It was great for me.

hugo-keenan Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“Those fundamental skills are the same. I know it is a bit different but the basics are there and you have to get them down to 100% to perform at that level. It’s good to bring into 15s here.”

Keenan will hope to deploy all the weapons in his arsenal in Thomond Park this evening (kick-off 6pm, eir Sport), when he fills the 15 shirt. He will come under close scrutiny from the Limerick crowd when Garryowens are sent his way by JJ Hanrahan and his former team-mate Nick McCarthy. Each error will feel like a gamechanger.

Keenan will experience the full heat of that pressure for the first time. The previous ground he counts as his most intimidating experience is Narbonne when he was an Ireland U20 international

“It will be a tough one. The lads have been telling me that playing down in Thomond is such a hard place to go, the crowd is always quite loud and hostile; I’m sure they’ll try and get into my head.

“I’ll just have to park that. It’s a game at the end of the day just like any other.”

Besides, he has waited for opportunities like this. Opportunities to show just how accomplished of a player he is in front of a packed house, on prime time TV.

And at fullback too, his preferred position by a long way.

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“You get a bit more space. I’ve have always seen myself as a fullback but at U20 level there was Jack Power or, in school, Joey Carbery in school.

“So I was always pushed out to the wing. I was always happy to be involved, play and get on the starting team but yeah, definitely fullback.”

Munster

15. Mike Haley
14. Dan Goggin
13. Sammy Arnold
12. Rory Scannell
11. Shane Daly
10. JJ Hanrahan
9. Nick McCarthy

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Kevin O’Byrne
3. Stephen Archer
4. Fineen Wycherley
5. Billy Holland (capt)
6. Tommy O’Donnell
7. Chris Cloete
8. Jack O’Donoghue

Replacements:

16. Diarmuid Barron
17. Jeremy Loughman
18. Keynan Knox
19. Darren O’Shea
20. Jack O’Sullivan
21. Neil Cronin
22. Joey Carbery
23. Calvin Nash

Leinster

15. Hugo Keenan
14. Adam Byrne
13. Jimmy O’Brien
12. Conor O’Brien
11. James Lowe
10. Ross Byrne
9. Jamison Gibson-Park

1. Ed Byrne
2. James Tracy
3. Andrew Porter
4. Devin Toner
5. Scott Fardy (capt)
6. Josh Murphy
7. Will Connors
8. Caelan Doris

Replacements:

16. Seán Cronin
17. Peter Dooley
18. Jack Aungier
19. Ross Molony
20. Scott Penny
21. Rowan Osborne
22. Ciarán Frawley
23. Tommy O’Brien

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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