Be Kind Rewind

In October 2009 with the Palindrome a mere nine months from opening, the blazers confirmed that the opening fixture would indeed be a rugger game. Given the small window in which it could be played (after opening but before the soccerball merchants pitched up in August), it was somewhat inevitable that the biggest names would not be involved.

So what they pencilled in was a combination interprovincial, where Munster/Connacht would play Leinster/Ulster. At the time (Autumn 2009), Munster were the kingpins of Irish rugger.  Despite Leinster being HEC champions, Munster were still considered the daddies of Irish rugby, and match-for-match had probably been the best team in the previous years HEC. They backboned the Irish Grand Slammers and that summers Lions team and were still recognisable as the Liginds. They were confident and comfortable in their own skin – no need to hype up someone with two semi-decent Pro12 outings as the next big thing when you had the real big thing in the first XV. The idea was to pair them with Connacht, traditionally the weakest Irish province, and let them chukka off against the rest.

Given there were no big names available (all on holidays), the players were picked from the Academies and sub-academies. The game itself was a complete mismatch – but in the opposite way to senior level – it was Leinster/Ulster won 68-0 and scored 10 tries. So despite the fact Leinster (then still under Mike Cheika) were far from the finished article, and Ulster were at the bottom of a trough, their collective youngsters were far, far better than those of Munster and Connacht. Initial warning sign? Maybe, but that might be being overly prescriptive with history – the acceptance at the time was that only a handful of these players might make the transition to the top level at any rate. So who were they?


15. Sam Coghlan Murray (Leinster)
14. Craig Gilroy (Ulster)
13. Alex Kelly (Leinster)
12. Luke Marshall (Ulster) Captain
11. Andrew Boyle (Leinster)
10. Paddy Jackson (Ulster)
9. Peter du Toit (Leinster)
1. James Tracy (Leinster)
2. Jonny Murphy (Ulster)
3. Martin Moore (Leinster)
4. Iain Henderson (Ulster)
5. Robert Hynes (Leinster)
6. Steven Lecky (Ulster)
7. Mark McGroarty (Leinster)
8. David McGuigan (Ulster)
16. Paddy Carroll (Leinster)
17. Andy Warrick (Ulster)
18. Mark Fallon (Leinster)
19. Paddy Marks (Ulster)
20. Conor Spence (Ulster)
21. Cathal Marsh (Leinster)
22. Michael McAuley (Ulster)


15. Callum Boland (Connacht)
14. Tadhg Leader (Connacht)
13. Daniel Horgan (Munster)
12. Ben Sargent (Munster)
11. Shane Leydon (Connacht)
10. Johnny Holland (Munster)
9. Mark Dolan (Connacht) Captain
1. Aaron Spring (Connacht)
2. Kieran Stokes (Munster)
3. Paul Mullen (Munster)
4. Rob O’Herlihy (Munster)
5. David O’Mahony (Munster)
6. Shane Buckley (Munster)
7. Aaron Conneely (Connacht)
8. Danny Qualter (Connacht)
16. James Rael (Munster)
17. Sean Wooton (Connacht)
18. Ian Mullarkey (Munster)
19. David Heffernan (Connacht)
20. Ronan Barry (Munster)
21. Gareth Quinn-McDonogh (Munster)
22. Jack Costigan (Munster)
23. Cathal Quinn (Munster)

Not many familiar names there, unless you are a hard-core fan. But there aren’t no familiar names – second row NWJMB is now a full international and will backbone the Irish pack for the next decade plus. Craig Gilroy was the star of the November series, scoring the first try against the Pumas and adding real vigour to Ireland’s attack. Paddy Jackson (24 appearances for Ulster) and Luke Marshall (18 appearances, and spent most of last season injured) would be full internationals too, if the IRFU hadn’t signed such a restrictive agreement with Aviva. In the event, they have lined up for an ‘Ireland XV’, but will certainly expect to feature in the Six Nations.

There’s quite a drop-off in visibility after that, with none of the rest of them having as much as strung together a few Pro12 games (the next most established is probably Leinster academy prop Martin Moore who has 5 replacement appearances in the Pro12).  Yet the big 4 are contending for international recognition. And, as we’re sure some of you have noted, all four are from Ulster. We had heard plenty of rumours at the time about the great crop of apples being grown in the Ulster orchard, but here is some intriguing evidence of it – all four provinces contributed the cream of their 18-20 year olds for this game, and the only four to make it to the top at a very young age are all from Ulster. Food for thought indeed, and worth another look in 2 years time to note progress…

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  1. Was a poor year for Leinster:

    15. Sam Coghlan Murray (Leinster) — still only 20. In the academy, had a career threatening disease which has stalled his progress.
    13. Alex Kelly (Leinster) — never progressed past the sub-academy.
    11. Andrew Boyle (Leinster) — in the academy still
    9. Peter du Toit (Leinster) — last i heard was playing in SA
    1. James Tracy (Leinster) — in the academy, has played prop and hooker.
    3. Martin Moore (Leinster) — in the academy, has looked good in brief appearances this season.
    5. Robert Hynes (Leinster) — no sign of him
    7. Mark McGroarty (Leinster) — never progressed past the sub-academy.
    16. Paddy Carroll (Leinster) — never progressed past the sub-academy.
    18. Mark Fallon (Leinster) — never progressed past the sub-academy.
    21. Cathal Marsh (Leinster) — in the academy.

  2. anonymous

     /  November 29, 2012

    Interesting that JJ Hanrahan wasn’t involved in that game. Johnny Holland is in the Munster Academy now.

    You’d have to think the IRFU would know that Munster & Connacht have fewer underage players than Leinster & Ulster despite the number of Munster born international are. Munster never do well at underage level. Players like Donnacha Ryan wouldn’t have even started playing rugby at that stage.

    • That was certainly one name that struck us as being missing alright. Also Luke O’Dea. Were they a year too old maybe?

  3. Redhanded

     /  November 29, 2012

    I think this is correct for the Ulster contingent:

    14. Craig Gilroy (Ulster) – full international cap
    12. Luke Marshall (Ulster) – Ireland XV cap
    10. Paddy Jackson (Ulster) – Ireland XV cap
    2. Jonny Murphy (Ulster) – 2nd season in Ulster academy
    4. Iain Henderson (Ulster) – full international cap
    6. Steven Lecky (Ulster) – had one season (10/11) in Ulster academy but this wasn’t renewed.
    8. David McGuigan (Ulster) – had two seasons (10/11, 11/12) in Ulster academy but this wasn’t renewed
    17. Andy Warrick (Ulster) – didn’t make Ulster academy
    19. Paddy Marks (Ulster) – didn’t make Ulster academy
    20. Conor Spence (Ulster) – 2nd season in Ulster academy
    22. Michael McAuley (Ulster) – didn’t make Ulster academy

    In the Connacht/Munster team, David O’Mahony had one season in the Ulster academy (11/12) but this wasn’t renewed.

  4. 4 articles in 4 days? That’s some production from WoC towers.

  5. Mike

     /  November 29, 2012

    I think that’s quite a good return. If the national squad needs say 25 decent players at any given time and the average career is say 10 years, we should be targeting 2/3 per season.

    Obviously it wont work out this way as there will be baron years and ‘golden generations’ (hate that phrase), but having 4 potential Ireland internationals (Jackson, Gilroy, Henderson and Marshall) is a decent return.

    I also think its telling that they were all Ulster players. Leinster were Heineken Cup kings, and Munster were top dogs, so maybe those players got a bit more exposure than they might have elsewhere.

  6. Bushmills

     /  November 29, 2012

    Fascinating. Since WoC Towers are on a roll, how about an assessment of Irish talent playing elsewhere (mostly in England I imagine) ? Having watched the gutsy Exeter side in the Heino I was struck by the size of the Irish contingent.

    Given the success of returning players following a soujourn overseas (Cullen, Reddan, Bowe, Wilson spring to mind), it is worth monitoring this other pool of talent.

    The biggest problem for Academy players is getting to play meaningful matches, whereas the exiles are getting top level game time.

    • Hi Bushmills. We’d direct you toward Murray Kinsella’s excellent ‘The Touchline’ blog for some very good pieces on Irish folk playing in some fairly obscure corners of European rugby. Unfortunately, he’s taking a break from his blog at the moment but the articles should still be relevant enough.

  7. Yer Man

     /  November 29, 2012

    Would be interested in a review of the subsequent development of the JWC U20 sides of the last few years. The 2012 vintage had Furlong, Henderson, Hanrahan, Farrell and a clutch of back-rowers (plus Layden out with injury and Jackson already with the Ulster senior squad).
    Who were the boys of 2011, or 2010, or 2009?

  8. Excellent post. Great idea.

    Given the limit size of the actual contracted playing squads, it has always been a source of interest what happens to all those who don’t ‘make it’. The Leinster academy seemed to churn out a plethora of good back rows over the past few years (guys a a year or two older than this selection) – how can keep all these guys happy?

  9. O’Halloran and Marmion not there? Buckley (the prop) and Henshaw also missing, although Henshaw was still in school at the time, probably wasn’t even in the academy. I don’t disagree that the quality of the Ulster players that have made it is undoubted, but using that game as the basis for analysis is a little simplistic.

    • Fair point B. We wouldn’t think this is anything definitive, but it’s interesting to take a glance at it and see what’s happened since. Henshaw was presumably way too young at the time, which gives an indication as to his talent.

      • You’re right it is interesting, Im sorry I was a bit brusque because I feel like this game is already being hyped up as the start of a new golden generation, I’m sure I’ve heard Gerry referring to it in typical hyperbolic terms. What I find interesting is that the ulster talent has bloomed, 3 or 4 of the Connacht players are there or thereabouts and ready to break into the first team, there are one of two of those Leinster players showing promise now, but as far as I can tell none of those Munster players are being talked about as potential first teamers, never mind internationals? Have I missed something obvious or is that really the case?

  10. Bowe gathers

     /  November 29, 2012

    I was at this game and have fond memories of what was ultimately a complte mis-match. The one thing I thought then was that Luke Marshall looked like the second coming of our lord and centre in a blonde wig. He had the knack for a gap, rode tackles and distriubuted like a ten when needed. His kicking game was also as average as BOD’s is. Ever since I’ve been running my finger down Ulster team sheets looking for his name, and recently haven’t had to go to that far down the page. I’m aware that this was a non-contest and no-one can live up to being BOD junior, but he and Gilroy stood out as special (also I think Leinster’s Andy Boyle bagged three of ten). Just saying that the IRFU did me and those young ulstermen a favour by giving them a platform, and it might have escaped their notice but cute hoor of the year may have to go to the humph for creating the environment for the yooth to prosper.

    • pete (buachaill on eirne)

       /  December 2, 2012

      I was at it too and I totally agree. I was in awe of Marshall. He was in a different league physically and mentally was two steps of everyone else. His passing was slick, running elusive when necessary, direct when necessary and he was emptying lads in tackles.

      Was it he who kicked the cross kick for one Craig gilroy to score the first try at the new stadium????

      Since then he’s been one of my favourite players and I was gutted he was injured for most of last season. Hopefully see him in green more.

      Ps: he just had another good game against the scarlets tonight

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