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Saturday 25 October 2014

Four for the Blues' future

IT is that time of the year again when the doors of Leinster Rugby close for the summer, and all the dreams, mostly realised, and those that were dashed are filed away under the heading 2011-2012.

What next? Can Leinster make it four Heineken Cups in five years? Can they become the first club in the short history of the competition to make it a hat-trick of trophies?

For Leinster to reign on indefinitely, like Toulouse in France and Leicester Tigers in England, they will need longevity.

It all starts with the Academy, the feeder system that underpins Leinster's development. It is the production line into the professional arena.

"You are looking for a player that ultimately can go on to be a professional player and play for Ireland. You are also looking for various characteristics and attitudes," said Colin McEntee, Academy manager.

"You look at position specifics. You look at the potential to fit into that role, such as the right height for a second row. You look at personality traits, how that player carries himself.



Driven

"How ambitious is he? Is he driven? Is he humble? Is he reflective? Is he committed to being the best he possibly can be? Does he have the personality to allow people in? Will he develop physically and mentally?

"The players are coming into the Academy not to be confirmed, they are coming to develop.

"When they come in, it is only confirmation that we think they have the traits, they have the ability.

"They have to prove themselves. It may not be next year. It could be in four or five years' time.

"The challenge in the Academy is to sustain success. You start that by getting in the right players," he said.

With this in mind, McEntee has felt the need to find full Academy places for four players straight out of school this summer. There were three in 2011, just one in 2010.

It is the most to go straight from school into the Academy, as opposed to the Sub-Academy, since it started with Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip in 2004-2005.

Unusually, for the province, the new kids on this block are all forwards.

What the players will be told and what they must understand straight away is that they have not made it. This is just the beginning.

DAN LEAVY (St Michael's College)

Position: Back row

Honours: Ireland U18 Schools 2011 & 2012

The best back-row prospect, at this stage of development, at Leinster since the advent of professional rugby.

In truth, this is a label that could weigh heavily for this year's Ireland Schools captain. Quite simply, he can do everything because he has speed, strength, power, courage, soft hands, agility at the breakdown and footballing intelligence. In time, he could well develop into the prototypical professional open-side.

"Dan is quite a dynamic ball player. He has very good characteristics for a back-row player. He is strong. He is athletic. He is tough. He is physical," said McEntee.

"He has shown great leadership qualities. He had an immense Senior Cup. He has done very well when he has performed against huge English and French sides for Ireland at the U18 European Championships."

EDWARD BYRNE (Clongowes)

Position: Loose-head prop

Honours: Ireland U18 Schools 2011 & 2012 & Ireland U19s 2012

The Clongowes captain (inset) in this year's Senior Cup has a better skill-set than Cian Healy had at this age -- he's that good.

There is a real footballing ability, relish for contact and speed of foot and mind about his game. The main priorities will be to work on the weight and master the dark arts of scrummaging.

"The twins are on the tip of the tongue of a lot of players. They are two really, really dynamic, well-grounded players. Rugby seems to be part of their life already," said McEntee.

BRYAN BYRNE (Clongowes)

Position: Hooker

Honours: Ireland U18 Schools 2011 & Ireland U19s 2012

Bryan, the hooker, shares the same will to win and will to learn as his twin brother Edward, the prop, and has also been blessed physically with the same rare gift to play with great skill.

This does not detract from his natural aggression and a technically sound throwing style that would be the envy of many professional players in his position.

"They have real potential. The way they play the game, their traits, their skills fit the Leinster system," said McEntee.

"They are driven in their attitude to the game and they are also good academically.

They are both also well-rounded players."

GAVIN THORNBURY (Blackrock)

Position: Second Row

Honours: Ireland U18 Schools 2011 & Ireland U19s 2012

There is a touch of Malcolm O'Kelly about this long, lean student from the Williamstown school.

He is possibly a 'project player' in the mould of Devin Toner.

"Gavin is about 6'8". He has sound functional knowledge in relation to his position -- an excellent lineout leader. He has to work hard physically on a big frame.

"If he applies himself, he could have a good future," added Academy boss McEntee.

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