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Tuesday 17 October 2017

Athletic Conan skips queue to first Leinster senior contract

CALLED: Jack Conan nabs first professional contract with Leinster
CALLED: Jack Conan nabs first professional contract with Leinster

Former Ireland number eight Jack Conan has skipped the final year of his Academy apprenticeship to be rewarded with his first professional contract at Leinster.

The soon-to-turn 22 year-old impressed with a Man of the Match award on his debut away to Cardiff Blues in the PRO12 League back in February and must be well-placed to succeed Jamie Heaslip as the province's next number eight.

Of course, Heaslip is going nowhere yet, and the versatile Jordi Murphy has been known to wear the number eight jersey now and again.

However, ex-St Gerard's School back-rower Conan, pictured, has been earmarked for some time for his natural power, athleticism and noted attitude to the game.

Conan is joined on his first professional contract by wing Sam Coghlan-Murray, tight-head Tadhg Furlong, scrum-half Luke McGrath, centre Colm O'Shea and James Tracy, making the change from loose-head prop to hooker.

Of the eight new recruits to Year 1 of the Leinster Academy, announced yesterday, seven made their presence felt at the U20 World Cup in New Zealand where Ireland made the final four for the first time.

The exception is St Michael's College outside centre Rory O'Loughlin, who has been susceptible to ongoing injury which removed him from that experience.

There is also interest from the fact that two of the eight - Garry Ringrose and O'Loughlin - are specialist outside centres as Leinster set about putting in place the foundation to finding a long-term solution to their biggest short-term problem.

While Leinster has always been pushed as a backs factory, seven of the eight rookies play in behind, while Peader Timmins stands alone as a forward.

Out-half Ross Byrne, Ringrose - shortlisted for U20 World Player of the Year last month - and back-three exponent Cian Kelleher enter with massive natural talent. "They are really exciting players. They had big influences on the tournament and on the Irish Under-20s through the Six Nations," said Academy Manager Girvan Dempsey.

"They're a really good bunch and they've all come through our Sub-Academy programme and gained the benefits."

In addition, Jordan Coghlan has been given an extra year at The Academy due to a series of injuries as he continues his transition from number eight to inside centre.

This trend continues into first year with Harrison Brewer, the son of All Black Mike, also positioned to evolve into a modern-day 'big man' in the midfield. Dempsey has overseen the introduction of five centres in the last two seasons.

Obviously, Leinster's recruitment drive takes into account senior squad deficiencies, namely the retirement of Brian O'Driscoll and the impending end of Gordon D'Arcy's, possibly after the 2015 World Cup.

LEINSTER RUGBY ACADEMY PANEL 2014/15:

Year 1: Harrison Brewer, Ross Byrne, Ian Fitzpatrick, Cian Kelleher, Nick McCarthy, Rory O'Loughlin, Garry Ringrose, Peadar Timmins.

Year 2: Adam Byrne, Steve Crosbie, Thomas Daly, Billy Dardis, Peter Dooley, Thomas Farrell, Ross Molony.

Year 3: Tadhg Beirne, Bryan Byrne, Ed Byrne, Jordan Coghlan, Daniel Leavy, Cathal Marsh, Gavin Thornbury, Josh Van Der Flier.

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