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Mayo rugby students making big headlines

Sport

Rugby students making big headlines


Rob Murphy

TEN years ago the possibilities and prospects for a young rugby player in the west of Ireland were a lot different. If you showed promise and ability that was merely the beginning, but the journey was a long and complicated one.
That has all changed now in Connacht as the provincial team continues to progress, backboned by a huge influx of Connacht academy talent developed locally.
Nigel Carolan and his crew in the Academy deserve plenty of credit for that, as do Eric Elwood, first, and now Pat Lam for giving these local players a chance at professional level.
It’s in this environment that players like Tom McHale (Westport), Daniel Keane (Ballinrobe) and Joe Murphy (Ballina) have reason to believe that they at least have a shot at making it in the professional game, even if the road ahead is difficult and they have many hurdles still to jump.
Will they go on to be professionals in the future? Who knows, but after their respective Schools Cup successes last week, the signs are clear that they are on the right path.
Keane and Murphy started for Cistercian Roscrea in the Leinster Schools final while former Rice College Westport star Tom McHale was at full-back for a victorious Rockwell College side in Munster.
Take Daniel Keane as an example. He has come through the ranks at Ballinrobe RFC where he played out-half. His performances for the South Mayo club garnered the attention of the Connacht academy where he joined their summer camps. The talented Gaelic footballer was then picked to play for the Connacht under 18 squad, only to be accepted into Roscrea the same week which made him ineligible.
It turned out to be only a minor setback. The 18 year-old began fifth year in Cistercian Roscrea, a school just inside the Leinster border in county Offaly, last September and teamed up with their senior squad where he was selected on the wing for this season’s historic Cup run.
Keane scored the match-winning try in the St Patrick’s Day victory over Belvedere College and also made a match-saving tackle. He and his friends from that Connacht summer camp, including Murphy and squad members Cillian Walsh (Ballinrobe) and Sam Hastings (Castlebar) were part of the first ever Roscrea  side to win a Leinster Schools Cup.
In an ideal world, all players in the province would be playing their schools rugby in a Connacht competition.
But the opportunities for boarding school aren’t as prevalent anymore, and the standard of competition is inevitably superior elsewhere — even if Robbie Henshaw and Marist College bucked a trend in 2013.
In time that may change but, for now, the Mayo lads are following the best path, confident that the professional structures in their home province will give them a good chance to kick on after schools rugby. And the best of luck to them.

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