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Explosive Kelleher loving the opportunity to 'step up and fill the jersey'

The hooker was man-of-the-match for Leinster against Ospreys last Friday.

OF ALL THE standout performances in Leinster’s eight-try evisceration of Ospreys on Friday night — and there were quite a few — no one in blue shone quite as brightly as Rónan Kelleher.

An obvious choice for the sponsor’s man-of-the-match award courtesy of a memorable RDS hat-trick, Kelleher once again showed why he is such a superb prospect for Leinster with a big shift.

ronan-kelleher-on-the-way-to-scoring-their-second-try Kelleher streaks clear for the first of his three tries on Friday. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

His tries aside, the 21-year-old’s lineout throwing was exemplary as Leinster’s set-piece functioned faultlessly, while Kelleher demonstrated his athleticism and explosiveness around the park in making three linebreaks.

With Séan Cronin away at the World Cup, Kelleher seized his early-season opportunity during pre-season friendlies against Coventry and Northampton Saints, and the former St Michael’s man has now started both of Leinster’s Pro14 outings ahead of James Tracy and Bryan Byrne. 

Winning his fourth senior appearance on Friday night, Kelleher exploded into life in the 14th minute when providing support for Will Connors to streak clear of the Ospreys defence, while his third came off the back of a strong rolling maul and a dunt forward from Peter Dooley. 

“I was a bit shocked myself I managed to get over for the first one but the last one Dooley helped me by literally helping me over the line,” he said, reflecting on his first-ever hat-trick of tries.

Kelleher made his senior debut against the Kings last March and earned a full contract with his native province for the 2019/20 campaign, having completed two years in the academy.

At six foot and 16st, 6lbs, Kelleher is a powerful and dynamic athlete and having worked on the nuts and bolts of his game such as lineout throwing, poach work and tackle technique over the summer, has emerged as a player of real potential for Leinster.

“With the Ireland lads away, we knew there would be opportunities,” he says of this World Cup block. “I was really focusing on trying to improve my skillset throughout the pre-season. Just narrowing my focus on my lineout throwing and stuff like that. Really trying to improve that aspect of my game, as well as my tackle tech and poach work.

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ronan-kelleher-is-presented-with-the-guinness-pro14-man-of-the-match-award-by-paddy-carberry The 21-year-old was MOTM against Ospreys. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I love the S&C part of the day-to-day training too and I think everyone is just really focused on laying down a marker for the season ahead. It’s more just about trying to step up and fill the jersey with Seanie is over at the World Cup.”

Gaining experience with Ireland U20s, Leinster ‘A’ in the Celtic Cup and with Lansdowne in the All-Ireland League under the guidance of Mike Ruddock, Kelleher has seamlessly made the step-up. 

“I’m loving it out there,” he adds. “I loved it last week against Treviso, so hopefully if it’s the will of the coaches [I'll keep hold of the jersey]. But what’s really important is to try and get maximum points from these three games and then really look to build on that.”

Kelleher will be hoping for further game-time, whether it’s from the start or off the bench, in round three on Friday evening and overall, Cullen has been impressed with the young hooker.

“He’s done well,” the Leinster head coach says. “He has come through the academy and especially for the front five forwards, some of the AIL games they play are really important. Particularly with Mike Ruddock at Lansdowne. It’s really valuable.

“Rónan has played a lot of AIL games last year and now he looks pretty comfortable. Physically he has always been pretty well developed and he’s just adding a few layers of the nuts and bolts to his game.” 

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Ryan Bailey

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