U20 lock Ahern grateful for Holland influence aiding his rapid rise

The vastly experienced Munster lock is an invaluable source of information for the Waterford man.

Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

ONE LOOK AT Thomas Ahern and his looming 6’9″ frame and you might think that he was born to be a second row.

And yet up until 2017 the Waterford man was counted among the backs on the books with his club.

Now 19 and a key member of Ireland’s U20 squad for the forthcoming Six Nations, he has spent the season hoovering up invaluable intellectual property to make up for any lost time honing his craft as a lock.

“This year was a bit different,” Ahern says of his second year in the Munster academy.

“I was with the seniors for the full pre-season during the World Cup. It was unbelievable.

“Just learning off the likes of Billy Holland, Darren O’Shea – people like that. When the internationals are off, it gives us opportunities to be around those fellas and it’s superb because you notice even in training sessions, the speed is different, the physicality is much different as well.”

Holland in particular is a mine of line-out information. The 34-year-old Corkman is third in the province’s list of all-time appearances with 225 outings and one international Test. And that experience invariably spills over to educate the men rising through the ranks behind him.

“You learn so much. Even looking back on videos, you just look as positioning. I go back to Billy because he is very good at training sessions, he would be certain positions and just knows what is happening.

“Hopefully I will learn off him. I think he is 15 years with pro experience, so he is a great role model to have.”

Ahern made his U20 bow during last summer’s World Cup in Argentina having come to the international and professional scene via the club route. His first touch of the oval ball came in Youghal RFC before moving to Dungarvan and the Waterpark club.

thomas-ahern Ahern pictured at the team base in Fota Island last week. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Currently studying Food Science and Health in UL, he is now registered with Shannon and every step onto a senior pitch has been another chance to learn and enjoy the step up in pace.

“It wasn’t too bad, I got a nice try alright (against Old Wesley), so it wasn’t bad.

”It’s a big step up. I came through the club background and wouldn’t have been used to the physicality at all, even the speed, you’re going up against grown-ups – I won’t say old men – there’s a few old fellas as well!  But it’s the physicality that’s the difference.”

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Ahern looks primed to hit peak markers in the physicality stakes as he targets a strong start on home turf against Scotland in Cork next Friday. With four caps to his name from last summer and a rapidly-rising reputation he forms part of the leadership group head coach Noel McNamara places a great deal of onus on to guide his team.

“Last year I was new on the scene, everyone was established last year and I was just trying to find my own place.

“This year, I’ve been named in the leadership group along with six other fellas, so a bigger role and leading from the front. It starts with us and hopefully trickles down to the rest of the squad.

“I got a bit of a taste for it last year, absolutely loved it and even watching the boys last year on TV, the home games in Independent Park looked unbelievable and drove me on to try and get on (the team) this year.”

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Sean Farrell

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