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'Being part of Connacht is amazing at the moment' - Kerins looking up

Ireland U20s scrum-half Stephen Kerins is part of the latest crop of promising Sligo players.

IT MAY STILL be a way off ‘hotbed’ status, but Sligo is increasingly becoming part of the production line of talented young rugby players in Connacht.

Scrum-half Stephen Kerins, who starred in Ireland U20s’ stunning comeback win over England two weekends ago, is one of a trio of promising Sligo youngsters currently progressing under the watchful eye of Nigel Carolan.

Stephen Kerins Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Prop Conan O’Donnell and back row/lock Cillian Gallagher have shown their ability for the Ireland U20s this year too, with front row O’Donnell also having featured in the 2015 campaign.

All three players are still representing Sligo RFC, currently fighting it out in ninth position in Division 2C of the Ulster Bank League. The three Ireland U20 stars came through Summerhill College together and haven’t turned their backs on their hometown club.

“Not really,” is Kerins’ response when asked if there was ever a thought of switching clubs to move up the divisions. “The great thing is, because you go from structure to unstructured, it gives you a different view of the game.

“It’s great they we have all three of us there and you’re constantly learning. Even at that level you’re teaching other people that are older than you, trying to help everyone out.”

The week before starting at scrum-half in that fantastic win against England, Kerins was in Division 2C action against Midleton. He remains a Sligo man through and through.

It’s great to have three of us there. We’re all great mates and hoping to push the club on. It just shows what the club are doing underage.”

Indeed, Sligo RFC has been doing and continues to do superb work on the underage side of the game, with many more of the club’s players representing Connacht at U18 and U19 levels in recent seasons. The likes of Matthew Cosgrove and Daragh Cummins have earned Ireland honours too.

Cathal Sheridan came through the ranks in Sligo and is now on the books at Munster, while local man Sean Henry played for Munster and Connacht before being forced into an early retirement due to injury.

Stephen Kerins Kerins throws a pass in the U20s' meeting with a Munster Development XV in December. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Kerins’ older brother, Rory, also played through the age grades for Connacht and is now part of Old Wesley’s Division 1B campaign in the Ulster Bank League.

The younger Kerins brother is part of the sub-academy at Connacht, but has featured impressively for the province’s Eagles side and has trained with Pat Lam’s senior side.

“The environment is amazing,” says Kerins of the buzz around table-topping Connacht. “We get on with the senior guys and we all interact, it’s like a big community, it’s a really good culture.

“Being part of Connacht is amazing at the moment, but even before that while we were building, you know it’s a great club to be with.”

Seeing the likes of Robbie Henshaw and Kieran Marmion, as well as recent new cap Ultan Dillane, heading away to Ireland camp and thriving in that exalted environment is also a boost for Kerins and the rest of the latest crop of hopefuls in Connacht.

It’s amazing,” says the scrum-half. “We’ve trained with those lads and you see them in the academy and they are only young lads. It shows that you are not too far away from what they are doing.

“It is amazing to see more Connacht people push into the senior squad, I’m delighted for them.”

Kerins has come to appreciate the working methods of Carolan, who is Connacht academy manager and head coach of this Ireland U20 side. The scrum-half says Carolan is “really creative” in bringing new ideas to his players and constantly keeping them tuned in.

There is also praise for the work of Mossie Lawler, the former Munster back and now elite player development officer with Connacht’s academy. Kerins says he has learned huge amounts from Lawler’s understanding of the game and intelligent training sessions.

Mossy Lawler Kerins is enjoying working with Lawler. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Kerins is balancing his rugby commitments with a Business Information Systems degree at GMIT and explains that the treks from Galway to Sligo and Dublin mean he needs to have his planning on point.

“My organisational skills weren’t that great before I came in,” says the Sligo man, “but now you have to work on that and it has helped me so much.”

Rugby and the Ireland U20s takes priority over study and Sligo for now, however, with Italy coming to Donnybrook on Friday night [KO 7.35pm] as Ireland seek their second win of the Six Nations after upsetting England.

Kerins had to sit on the bench for the opening two games against Wales and France as Ireland lost, but the impression he made against England last time out was strong.

He says there was no frustration in having to wait for his chance, just an eagerness to make it count when it did arrive.

“I just kept chipping away. As Nigel says, do the simple things brilliantly.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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