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Thursday 16 August 2018

Coghlan seeks grand ascent

Academy ace eyes U-20 Slam success to aid climb at Blues

A YEAR in the life. When Jordan Coghlan reflects, he does so with a smile. In the corresponding weekend a year ago he was busily preparing for a long weekend of study alongside his fellow boarders in Clane.

Wuthering Heights, Pythagoras' Theorem or Hamlet? Take your pick.

The Ireland senior team were, again, preparing to renew rivalries with England, this time for the first time in the recently rebuilt Lansdowne Road stadium. And Coghlan was gearing up for the biggest occasion of his sporting life.

Now when you talk about big sporting occasions and ask the question to a mere 19-year-old, a sense of over-statement can set in.

So with the pressures of the Leaving Certificate looming, Coghlan might have physically settled into the study hall, but mentally his mind was elsewhere as his Clongowes Wood College SJ side were shaping up to face Cistercian College Roscrea in the final of the Schools Senior Cup in the RDS.

I think it's fair to say that Bronte and Shakespeare took a back seat that weekend.

"There's obviously nerves, because of the history of the competition across all of the competing schools and because you put so much effort in throughout the year," Coghlan recalls, "but the main emotion I remember feeling was excitement. I mean, opportunities to play at the RDS with some of your closest friends don't come around all that often."

The Clontarf youngster had by this stage already represented his province and his country through the Age Grades at cricket -- going as far as to line out for Ireland 'A'.

A right arm medium-fast bowling all-rounder with a left-handed consistent batting technique, he showed potential in that code until a rugby pathway opened.

"I have always loved cricket and I have a lot of great friends and good memories from Clontarf CC. There would be a bit of a cross-over in terms of fitness and nutrition, while being a bowler means a lot of running. These have all been assets as I've started off in professional rugby."

Symmetry

There is an interesting symmetry this weekend as Ireland are once again facing England, while Clongowes are for the third year in a row preparing for a Schools Senior Cup title charge.

Tonight, Coghlan has the opportunity to become a part of history as the Ireland U20s stand on the cusp of capturing only the nation's fourth ever Grand Slam at either Senior or U20 levels.

"If you look over the course of the four matches to date, we have been fairly consistent, but we know that we have to go up another gear or two this week because England are a good side.

"They lost to France last weekend, which shows that they're beatable, but in their own backyard they'll be tough. But there's a good level of confidence about the Ireland camp at the moment. Obviously Clongowes are preparing for their own final this weekend -- and I'll be there on Sunday to cheer them on -- but this week I kept on remembering a lesson that our coaches in school taught us about the mentality required for approaching big games.

"We went into last year's final against Cistercian Roscrea as favourites, but in the build-up to the game he said that there would be a punishment to any players that he heard bad-mouthing the opposition. It just reiterated the need to focus on the job at hand.

"We won the final quite well (46-15) and it was nice to score a try, but there was no way that we were going to let our concentration slip having worked so hard to get there.

"There's a lot of talk about this year's team. People are comparing them to the great (Gordon D'Arcy-inspired) Clongowes team of 1998 or the Blackrock College 'Dream Team' from the mid-90s, but the lads themselves aren't paying any attention to the hype.

St Michael's are a good team and they have been consistent all year. They know that it'll be a tough test."

Year one in the Leinster Academy has flown by for the back-row forward, but he is relishing the experience which has already seen him earn his debut British & Irish Cup cap against Llanelli in Parc y Scarlets.

With a semi-final against Munster in the RDS on the horizon, Coghlan and his fellow Ireland U20 colleagues such as Conor Gilsenan, Luke McGrath and Cathal Marsh are aiming to keep on impressing.

Through cricket he has already travelled the world, so tonight marks a small step, but a giant leap to Adams Park, the home of London Wasps and Wycombe Wanderers FC.

"I've really savoured the experiences so far this year both in the Academy and recently with the U20s and hopefully we can continue to improve. There's a lot of competition between the Leinster lads in the back-row in the U20s, but we're all driving each other on.

"As a group we're fairly close-knit anyway so while you might miss out on selection, you just keep the head down and work hard.

"You don't need much motivation when you play England," he adds with a thoughtful pause. "But given this is a final for us then we're going out all guns blazing.

"We have it in us to beat them and we'll be doing our best to achieve that."

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