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Dublin: 8°C Tuesday 20 April 2021

Hooker Kelleher settled in and braced to meet rekindled Dragons threat

The Pro14′s last unbeaten side host Dean Ryan’s rejuvenated men of Gwent tomorrow evening..

Ronan Kelleher at training in UCD.
Ronan Kelleher at training in UCD.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

HE MAY HAVE announced himself on the professional stage with a memorable hat-trick against the Ospreys earlier this month, but Leinster’s Ronan Kelleher is making sure to keep grounded ahead of a hectic November schedule for the province.

The blues will seek to cement their position at the summit of the PRO14 Conference A table when they welcome a rejuvenated Dragons side to the RDS tomorrow evening.

In between league encounters with Connacht (November 8) and Glasgow Warriors (November 30), Leo Cullen’s men are set to reintegrate their World Cup contingent for consecutive Champions Cup showdowns against Benetton and Lyon.

Although his scoring exploits in Leinster’s facile victory over the Ospreys will have greatly enhanced his selection prospects, Kelleher is intent on keeping his eye firmly fixed on the Newport men.

“Dragons have been on fire. They’ve been real cohesive with more or less the same squad for the four games so far. They’ve had two wins and last year they had five in total,” Kelleher said of Dean Ryan’s outfit.

“They’ve been in a rich vein of form. I assume confidence has grown for them and they’ve got momentum as well. It will take a big effort to stop that at home in the RDS.”

All 11 of Kelleher’s appearances for the Ireland U20s were as a hooker, though it wasn’t until he entered the Leinster sub-academy that he made the position his permanent home. Previously, he featured at loosehead prop in his St Michael’s College days, before Noel McNamara and Peter Smyth subsequently suggested a positional switch.

As a former front-row operator, Smyth – current head of elite player development with the IRFU – has been helping Kelleher to develop the technical aspects of his game. The ferocious competition for the number two shirt (Sean Cronin, James Tracy and Bryan Byrne are the more established options within the senior squad) also ensures that the 21-year-old stays on top of the finer details.

“The scrummaging in the hooker role is a lot more natural to me than it was at loosehead back in school. I just find the every day rigours of hooker easier. The group of hookers we have, it is very competitive. We all push each other. We have the net downstairs in the gym.

We would all be down there twice, three times a week. You would usually come in on an off day and try to get a good hour done. I’ve been working with Peter Smyth a lot over the last couple of years. Being a hooker, he has really helped me narrow my focus to a couple of key components of the throw.”

It proved to be an interesting summer overall in the Kelleher household. In addition to Ronan securing a full contract with Leinster, his older brother Cian returned to the province following a three-season stint at Connacht.

Indeed, with 11 St Michael’s graduates in the senior squad – and a host of Ailesbury Road alums in the Academy system – there is a sense of familiarity around the camp for the gifted siblings.

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ronan-kelleher Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We are fortunate enough that a lot of his team-mates are also up here. It is a pretty natural fit. It makes it feel a lot more cohesive than you would expect because I would have played with a lot of the lads coming up, like Oisin Dowling, Jack Kelly…

“I would have been a year behind JR [James Ryan] and Max [Deegan], we would have played together. Coming up here and training with them every day, it was a lot easier to integrate into it.”

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