Munster centre Kiernan aims to make his own name with Ireland U20s

The 19-year-old UCC man has a father who has gone down in Irish rugby history.

DONAL LENIHAN BURST into the 22, Michael Bradley threw a diving pass and Mike Kiernan made Irish rugby history.

That was 1985 but the Triple Crown-clinching drop goal against England still gets the odd viewing in the Kiernan household when 19-year-old Paul’s friends call around.

“They’d be playing the video in front of my Dad, getting a kick out of it,” says the Ireland U20s centre with a smile. “He just laughs it off I suppose. It pops up on the TV the odd time, so it’s nice to see it.”

Paul Kiernan Kiernan is looking to forge his own path. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Kiernan senior did it all in his own career, playing for Munster, Ireland and then the Lions on the 1983 tour of New Zealand.

Paul is proud of what his father achieved in the game but says he feels no pressure to emulate him or follow in his footsteps. The surname precedes him – former Munster, Ireland and Lions fullback Tom Kiernan [who also coached Munster to their 1978 win over the All Blacks] is Mike’s uncle – but Paul is laidback about the family history.

His clear determination, leadership capabilities and impressive physical dimensions mean Paul, who turns 20 on Saturday, has a rich potential all of his own.

Kiernan is part of Nigel Carolan’s Ireland U20 squad currently preparing for Friday night’s Six Nations opener against Wales at Donnybrook [KO 7.35pm]. He captained the Munster U20s to the interprovincial title back in September, with seven more of that side being called into Ireland’s Six Nations group.

The inter-pros were very competitive, we had a few physical games against good Ulster, Connacht and Leinster teams,” recalls Kiernan. “It was down to the wire in two of the games.

“We got off in the Ulster game by a drop goal that hit off both posts and came back into the field of play, so it was a tough campaign. It was good to link up with the whole [Ireland] squad then in October and have a run into it, a few camps, and the trials as well. It’s been a good season so far.”

Kiernan was outstanding as captain for Munster in the inter-pros, his second season at U20 level with the province, and his strong form has continued with club side UCC as the Cork men have worked their way into promotion contention in Division 2A of the Ulster Bank League.

Paul Kiernan lifts the cup Kiernan captained Munster to the U20 title this season. Source: Mike Shaughnessy/INPHO

Kiernan’s rugby life began with Cork Con in his hometown, but truly took off when he moved into secondary school at Presentation Brothers College, where there were some obvious recent influences.

“Guys like Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo, who went through the school, we always looked up to those kind of lads,” says Kiernan, whose Senior Cup team had Munster hooker Niall Scannell as an assistant coach.

“I just missed them by a year. I came into first year when they were leaving, but all the coaches and even the teachers would talk about them and their leadership roles and how players would turn to them.

They are quality players with a lot of experience now, so for a lot of people coming through Pres it’s nice to look up to players like that and try to achieve what they have in their careers.”

Kiernan, a second year Commerce student in UCC, has already trained with Munster’s senior squad and shown his own leadership credentials, which will be important to Ireland U20s skipper James Ryan this season.

The Leinster second row is one of the powerful forwards who provide Ireland with hope of being highly competitive and perhaps even dominant at the set-piece this season.

Last year saw a highly-rated and individually-exciting Ireland U20s backline stymied by the struggles in the scrum and lineout in key games. Kiernan is hopeful that an Ireland backline that has come into this campaign a little more under the radar can prove even more effective.

Paul Kiernan with Jack Keegan Kiernan's midfield play is powerful and incisive. Source: Mike Shaughnessy/INPHO

“We have a lot of pace out wide and I suppose we’ve been able to showcase the backline in a couple of the trial games,” says the UCC man.

We played Leinster in Donnybrook [in December, winning 66-12] and it was a good game, on the all-weather pitch as well which benefits the back play because you can spread the ball and it’s a faster tempo.

“There’s pace out wide and it’s good to play behind a physical pack as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to get a bit of running rugby going.”

(This article was updated at 08.50 to correct the year of Munster’s win over New Zealand to 1978.)

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Murray Kinsella

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