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SOB, Furlong and many more - Leinster Youths system producing major talent

Leinster senior debutants Jamie Osborne, Marcus Hanan, and Tim Corkery are the most recent evidence.

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EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK, there are products of the Leinster Youths system.

The last time the Lions played, there were two former Leinster Youths involved against the All Blacks at Eden Park, with Tadhg Furlong and Sean O’Brien flying the flag down in New Zealand.

Players who have come through this underage club pipeline are now spread across the four Irish provinces. Munster have Joey Carbery and Jeremy Loughman from Athy. In Ulster, there’s the Skerries brothers Alan and David O’Connor.

Connacht have Conor Oliver, Jack Aungier, Paul Boyle, Eoghan and Sean Masterson, Cormac Daly, Tom Daly, and Charlie Ward, with Greg McGrath set to join them next season.

And, of course, the Leinster set-up is jam-packed with former Leinster Youths: Furlong, Ciarán Frawley, Vakh Abdaladze, Conor O’Brien, Peter Dooley, Adam Byrne, Marcus Hanan, Martin Molony, Brian Deeny, Jamie Osborne and Tim Corkery.

Glance abroad and there are more. Ospreys-bound Jack Regan, Exeter’s Sean O’Brien, Conor Maguire in Gloucester, Mick Kearney in Italy, and Jamie Hagan in Béziers. 

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The Ireland 7s squad bidding for a place at the Olympics this weekend includes Hugo Lennox and Sean Cribbin, while there is even a former Leinster Youths man playing professional Aussie Rules in Conor Nash, very much one that got away from Irish rugby. 

The list above is set to grow in the coming years. Yesterday, there were five Leinster Youths products in the Ireland U20 squad that beat against Scotland: Josh O’Connor, Osborne, Temi Lasisi, Corkery and Will Reilly.

jamie-osborne Naas man Jamie Osborne is regarded as a major talent. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It’s worth noting that ‘Leinster Youths’ refers to the whole pipeline of underage players coming through club rugby – rather than schools rugby – but also to the Leinster Clubs U18 team, which gathers together the best of the province’s club talent each season.

This summer, the latest extended Leinster Youths squad of nearly 50 players will go through a programme involving three training days a week at Naas RFC, where they gather from 9am to 3pm for a schedule filled with on-pitch training, gym work, backs and forwards split sessions, meetings, and meals.

After the past 16 months of being forced to keep young players connected online due to the pandemic, there is relief to finally be back up and running with what is a comprehensive programme.

“They’re treated like pro players and that’s the beauty of it,” explains Rob Mullen, one of the Leinster Youths assistant coaches.

Joe Carbery, Joey’s father, is the head coach, while ex-Leinster lock Eoin Sheriff, himself a former Youth, is forwards coach. There is a support network around them in the likes of manager Patsy Gorman and the long-serving Martin Fenlon, ‘Mr. Leinster Youths’.

The training programme builds to inter-pros against Munster, Connacht, and Ulster Youths in late August and September before the best players go on to the Ireland Youths – depending on the resumption of international rugby at that level. In normal times, the Leinster Youths would probably be off on a tour abroad leading into the inter-pros.

“The players now all have the intent of being professionals,” says Mullen, while also stressing that it’s not just about the players who make it all the way to the top.

“The feedback we get from parents is excellent, telling us their son has changed so much, is so focused, looks after himself, which is brilliant.

“Even if guys don’t go on and make the Leinster U19s [where club and schools players are combined for the first time], they’ve learned so much – life skills, mindfulness, things like cooking. All of that is important as well as the rugby.”

leinster-celebrate-after-the-game Leinster Youths won the inter-pros in 2019. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The Leinster Youths team is the pinnacle of the system, with the province broken up into five areas to help identify and organise talent from U15 level upwards – North Midlands, Midlands, North East, South East, and Metro.

The area teams compete against each other in the prestigious Shane Horgan Cup – named after one of the Youths’ greatest players – every year. The area teams train together every Monday during the season, providing the young players with high-level coaching and education around nutrition, strength and conditioning, and mental skills.

There is also a Leinster Youths U18 side for girls and their programme also runs throughout the summer following province-wide screening for the best talent, with that set-up run along similarly professional lines.

Feeding into the area teams is the hard work of clubs all over the province, as well as Leinster Rugby’s own development staff – coach and player development officers [CPDOs], community rugby officers [CROs], and women’s rugby development officers.

Mullen is a CRO for South Dublin, working with clubs like Tallaght RFC, Clondalkin, and St. Mary’s. After we speak, he is heading off to a Clondalkin U14s game against Ratoath, keeping an eye out for players with potential.

The Leinster staff are always in scouting mode, with an online portal allowing them to flag players of potential as they go about their jobs of growing the game.

The clubs obviously play a crucial role in all of this.

“Everyone in the job is keeping an eye on boys and girls coming through the system,” says Mullen.

“There are 50-plus staff working on the ground with clubs and non-traditional rugby schools, but there are also so many volunteers out there working with clubs and with the area teams. It’s not just Leinster Rugby, there are so many people who help this.

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“We talk about ‘From the ground up’ in Leinster and it is very real.”

tom-daly Recent Ireland call-up Tom Daly is another former Leinster Youth. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

There is excitement among all of those people at the prospect of Leinster building more ‘centres of excellence’ around the province to match the impressive Ken Wall Centre of Excellence based in Energia Park in Dublin where the sub-academy players train.

More high-quality training facilities like that one will only further the development work being done in the Youths system, as well as ensuring rugby is as attractive as possible to young people who are often also playing other sports like football, hurling, and basketball.

The GAA is a big rival for the best athletic talent and while the Youths don’t put pressure on youngsters to make a decision between sports, there is always a challenge in managing workloads. Kilkenny man Tim Corkery, who recently made his Leinster senior debut, was a superb hurler, while Leinster academy lock and Wexford man Brian Deeny excelled at football. 

All the while, those working in the Youths system are keeping an eye out for late developers – players who miss out on making their area team for the Shane Horgan Cup or who physically develop later.

There is also an open-mindedness around players’ positions, as with current Ireland U20 loosehead prop Temi Lasisi, who came through in Enniscorthy as a number eight but is now showing his promise in the front row.

“Often, if you’re the big guy, you’re going to be playing at number eight or centre for your club,” says Mullen. “A lot of players will come in in one position and be changed.”

Leinster run a programme over the course of the season after the Youths inter-pros, bringing the most talented players in for extra training sessions with the likes of provincial talent coach Trevor Hogan, aiming to ensure they have the best possible shot at the Leinster U19s.

Sub-academy and full academy spots follow for the best club players, with moments like Naas RFC man Jamie Osborne’s recent impressive senior debut for Leinster always filling everyone along the pipeline with pride.

As the summer programmes for boys and girls kick into top gear, the Leinster Youths will be striving to produce many more players like him.

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Murray Kinsella

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