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Ahern has shone in Munster's second row.
Ahern has shone in Munster's second row.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

Waterford lock Ahern rounds out his game to underline potential for Munster

The 6ft 9ins second row has been impressive in recent times.
May 20th 2022, 6:30 AM 9,264 16

HAVING BEEN INTRODUCED to senior professional rugby during the pandemic, Thomas Ahern is one of those players who have been getting to grips with having tens of thousands of people roaring from the stands during games this season.

Three weekends ago, Ahern made his latest impressive replacement appearance for Munster in front of more than 40,000 supporters as they were agonisingly pipped by Toulouse in the Champions Cup quarter-finals.

There was a remarkable atmosphere in the Aviva Stadium that day and Ahern will never forget moments like the Munster fans roaring out a rendition of The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’ late on in that battle.

“To be honest, it’s unbelievable,” says the 22-year-old lock. “As a child growing up, you’re going to European matches in Thomond Park and enjoying the atmosphere, but when you’re on the pitch it’s almost completely surreal.

“In the Aviva, in that extra-time period when they started singing that song, it was almost like an out-of-body experience. It was unbelievable.”

6ft 9ins Ahern has been giving Munster fans plenty of reason to get excited in recent times, grabbing his opportunities with both hands to underline his rich potential.

Last season was a frustrating one for the ex-Ireland U20 international as a string of badly-timed injuries held back his progress and limited him to just two starts and another five replacement appearances.

He did have a thigh injury a few months ago but has had better luck and shown greater durability this season, making three starts and eight sub appearances so far.

“A couple of annoying injuries last year and a bit of an injury this year but the physios and S&C coaches got me through it quite quickly,” says Ahern.

thomas-ahern-makes-a-break Ahern making a dynamic carry against Toulouse. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

“They’re outstanding and I’m very happy to get a nice run of games under my belt.”

He impressed in three cameos off the bench in the Champions Cup against Exeter twice and then Toulouse, showing that his longstanding potential is now becoming top-level ability. 

Ahern has been regarded as a unique athlete since first announcing himself as a force at underage levels with Munster. His pace and skill level mean he can do things that some other locks simply can’t.

But perhaps most impressive about his recent form is the clear evidence of his hard work in less glamorous areas like the lineout, which he even called during extra-time against Toulouse.

“I was lucky enough last year, I had Billy Holland who’s a good man to help me out with lineouts last year and a couple of lads this year now, Tadhg Beirne and Fineen Wycherley,” he says of his learning curve in that area.

“We’re all very close together and we’re always bouncing ideas off each other and helping each other with that aspect of the game.”

Ahern’s lineout defence has been excellent, while he is a weapon in the defensive maul. In short, he is nailing the nuts and bolts of second row play as much as the undoubtedly thrilling stuff around the pitch.

“It’s definitely a big work on for me at the moment,” says Ahern of the nitty-gritty stuff involved in being a lock.

“Graham Rowntree has been a massive help with that as regards my game, that kind of tight work around my scrum, my mauling, my rucking, and stuff like that. It’s been a big focus for me and my improvement.”

As well as exciting Munster fans, Ahern is the pride of Waterford along with team-mate Jack O’Donoghue.

thomas-aherne-encourages-his-team Ahern is maturing into a complete second row. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Ardmore man Ahern played with Dungarvan and Youghal – just across the border in Cork – in his earliest rugby days and later moved to Waterpark RFC before heading on to Limerick to link up with Munster and attend UL.

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Ahern takes some pride in representing the Déise.

“I do to be fair. Growing up, I’d see Jack come up through the system so getting a chance to play with him week in, week out, even my debut coming on and playing with Jack, it’s a class experience because the whole way up I was looking out for him. It was class to finally get to play with him.”

Last autumn, Ahern was called up to the Ireland squad as a development player, getting a chance to train with Andy Farrell’s team. 

It was an “unbelievable experience” and he enjoyed getting the chance to have a chat with the “iconic figure” that is Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell, but right now Ahern is busy trying to get ahead in Munster. 

Next up is tomorrow’s crucial clash with Leinster in Dublin as Munster bid for a home quarter-final in the URC, and possibly a home semi-final too. Leinster will rest all their front-liners but Ahern still expects a fierce contest.

“They’re always very good,” says Ahern. “They’re the URC champs and they’re the European finalists so you know what you get with them. They brought a different kind of squad down to South Africa and you saw the two performances and they almost came away with two wins.

“So we’re under no illusions that whatever squad they put out, it’s going to be a big battle up there.”

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Murray Kinsella

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