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Dublin: 12 °C Friday 6 December, 2019

U20 captain Kelly eager to learn as he leads

The latest leader from St Michael’s has already taken part in Joe Schmidt training sessions and is hungry for more.

JACK KELLY IS the sixth Ireland U20 skipper to have come through St Michael’s College.

Jack Kelly runs in their fourth try of the game Kelly runs in a try for St Michael's last year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Yet his rise to that post was not as straightforward as picking up a baton from his old school-mates or getting a nod from someone who was fond of his school colours.

In Nigel Carolan’s squad, the team voted for captains after their winter warm-up fixtures.

Kelly won the second vote, after Connacht powerhouse Cillian Gallagher had taken the plaudits first time around.

As one of three players returning from last summer’s World Championship squad, the second row looked a good fit for the post. But with the sizeable burden of pack leader and line-out conductor already strapped on his back, Carolan decided to use the split vote as a chance to share the load.

“When we spoke about it then as a management, we felt that Cillian also has additional responsibilities in calling the line-outs and a role around defence,” explained the Connacht man.

“We felt then that we’d take a little bit off his shoulders and place it upon Jack. We’ve instilled a lot of responsibility in other members of the team as well to assist Jack.”

Kelly, who starred as a fullback in last year’s Senior Cup after playing most of his teens as a centre, has plenty of assistance at hand from his predecessors too.

Jack Kelly

“I know Nick (McCarthy), James (Ryan) and (Ross) Molony quite well.

“Especially James. He was my captain as I was going through the school.

“He sent me a text congratulating me. I have had a chat with him about what the Six Nations is like, what the World Cup is like and what the U20s is like as well. It is great to have friends that can give you that bit of guidance.”

Kelly gives off the impression of a man who is insatiable when it comes to knowledge. He cites Rob Kearney and Isa Nacewa as the players he looks up to most because of their aerial leap and tactical kicking prowess, areas of his own game he feels the need to improve.

“You are always in awe when you see someone doing what you aren’t able to do. My running game, I would be confident enough in, but then when I see them (Kearney and Nacewa) going up and I have no idea how they come away with the ball. Or just their ability to find space in the backfield. They would be the skills I would look to improve on.”

Jack Kelly Kelly in U19 action against France last year. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

A little closer to his generation, Garry Ringrose and Rory O’Loughlin are more recent footsteps he wishes to follow, but he has got more than a sniff of the top table already. With Joe Schmidt in need of some bodies in the back three for a pre-Chicago training session, Kelly and Jordan Larmour went along to suit up with the big boys.

“Just as a tackle bag really,” smiles the bearded young captain.

It was a great experience, to see the level they train at, and how every training session they are so switched on, so concentrated on their task. It gives you an idea of the level you have to reach to be able to play with players like that. It was a brilliant experience.

“They were never just thinking: ‘this is a training session, the game will come and that’s when we will switch on’. They were always acting as if they were playing a match. That’s what I took away from it.

“My main reaction was: ‘this is pretty cool!’ I was taken aback and a bit in awe of the circumstances that I found myself in.

“On reflection it is cool to get those experiences because you want to be in that position at some point in your career. It gives you a small taste and you want to come back for more.”

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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