Friday 22 February 2019

The long blue conveyor belt

Penny and Baird bring tally to 20 Michael's pros

James Ryan of Leinster tackles Hadleigh Parkes of Scarlets during the Champions Cup semi-final at the Aviva Stadium
James Ryan of Leinster tackles Hadleigh Parkes of Scarlets during the Champions Cup semi-final at the Aviva Stadium

The English Institute of Sport visited St Michael's College recently to delve into the reasons why they have produced so many professional rugby players for Leinster in recent years.

"Yeah, they were interested in how we do what we do," said Emmet MacMahon.

"I guess they are looking for any edge wherever they can find it and, obviously, we can learn from the way they work."

There was an emptiness to his words that suggested all the outside applause and attention was secondary for MacMahon.

"That's all great and everything. But ultimately, I am the Senior Cup coach and we got beaten in the semi-final this year."

The pride at working a remarkable 18 players into the Leinster professional system and two others, Cian Kelleher and Denis Coulson, into Connacht is there.

It is accompanied by the hangover of hurt from not delivering in the Senior Cup semi-final.

At the moment, St Michael's are better known for what they are doing for Leinster than what they are doing for themselves.

"We are taking the annual SCT photo in a few days and there will be no trophy in it," he said.

When the photo is hung on a wall in the school, it will always look like there is something missing.

"The fallout from this year has been difficult. It has been as tough as I've ever seen it."

"The wound will become a scar and the scar won't go away," he said, about the semi-final meltdown to Belvedere.

"We will learn from it and be back stronger next year because of it."


When it comes to the Leinster Academy, they've worked the oracle again this year.

Second row Ryan Baird and flanker Scott Penny will bypass the Sub-Academy on their way directly into the Leinster Academy.

In there, they will join Ireland U-20 out-half Harry Byrne and second row Jack Dunne, both bumped up from the Sub-Academy.

It will take the number of professionals from the Ailesbury Road school up to 20, 18 of which are stationed at Leinster.

"This is definitely about personal development as well as rugby development," noted MacMahon.

"There is a real good culture across the school from Junior Cup up to Senior Cup, playing in a similar fashion, really aligned in terms of the school's philosophy on how the game should be played.

"It comes down to the culture of hard work in everything we do, from the lads getting in early in the morning doing their work, to the video meetings, to the training sessions, to the calibre of coaches that we have.

"It means the lads who are good enough are ready to go as professional rugby players."

In reality, it is a pre-professional pathway, which makes the Academy the natural next step.


There are characteristics or traits common to most of those who move on into Leinster.

"For the lads who have gone on to be professionals, they are all consistent, playing at a certain level at training, not just in matches.

"It is the same lads pushing standards at gym training, talking at video sessions, basically the hardest workers on and off the pitch.

A hard worker is a hard worker wherever they are and none reflect this more than James Ryan.

"I will always remember someone turning to me and saying, 'if this guy doesn't turn professional, we haven't done our duty.'"

They have. And much more.

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