World Cup youngsters boost Carolan’s Connacht Academy

Ireland's Junior World Championship winger, Galwegians Ciaran Gaffney, outhalf Conor McKeon, and centre Peter Robb are among the new quintet, along with hooker Jack Dineen and backrow Marc Kelly.

In addition tighthead prop Jamie Dever will rejoin the Academy this year, having been released on sabbatical last season due to a lengthy battle with a foot injury. He will come into year two of the Academy having already completed a season in 2012/13, while Shane Layden who had completed three years in the Academy, has been re-contracted for an additional year having missed the majority of a season due to injury, but he will train with the senior squad under coach Pat Lam.

The new additions follow the step up to full senior contracts for Darragh Leader, Jack Carty, Conor Finn and Finlay Bealham who have all signed one-year deals.

Ciaran Gaffney made a name for himself at the recent Junior World Championship in New Zealand where he started all five games on the right wing. The Galway born player, who was educated at the Bish and Roscrea, plays his club rugby for Galwegians, where his father was president last season. Currently studying for a commerce and French degree at NUIG, Gaffney was a member of the Connacht sub Academy this season who was nominated for the Connacht u-19 Player of the Year.

Outhalf Conor McKeon has been a regular for the Ireland u-20s, playing the last 10 games in both the IRB 6 Nations and Junior World Championship in New Zealand. Second cousin to Connacht's Eoin McKeon, the 20-year-old was born and educated in Dublin where he played his club rugby with Lansdowne RFC.

Centre Peter Robb enjoyed a successful u-20 Six Nations campaign under Mike Ruddock, starting all five games in the competition. Unfortuntately his season was cut short when he sustained an injury in a JWC warm up game against Scotland.

Nineteen-years-old hooker Jack Dinneen has also been promoted from the sub-academy. The Limerick-born former backrow player, who joined Galwegians RFC and studies commerce in NUI Galway, was drafted into the senior match day squad following an injury crisis at hooker. Capped from the bench against Munster at the Sportsground, he then went on to earn a second cap in the PRO12 as a replacement in the last game of the season away to Ospreys.

Back row forward Marc Kelly recently lined out for the Ireland u-19s against France and was also nominated for Connacht u-19 Player of the Year after a great season with the province. The Portumna native was educated at Cistercian College Roscrea where he captained the senior cup team.

Academy manager Nigel Carolan is delighted with the new crop of players.

"When recruiting players to the Academy, we always go back to the objective which is to produce winning rugby players who will go on to play for Connacht and Ireland. All have achieved success at age-grade level and this will be another step up for them in terms of their development - both on and off the field.

"It was great to see Academy graduate Kieran Marmion earn his first two international caps in Argentina this month and we've also been keeping an eye on the progress of other graduates Mick Kearney and Eoin Griffin with Dan McFarland in the ITM Nations Cup. To see those players, as well as our representatives with the Ireland u-20s achieve success at the top level, is extremely encouraging and we want to see more and more Academy graduates on those teams going forward."

Connacht Academy 2014/15: YEAR 3, Ultan Dillane, lock; Shane Layden, back three. YEAR 2, James Connolly, back row; Jamie Dever, tighthead prop; Saba Meunargia, tighthead prop; Rory Moloney, backrow; Sean O'Brien, backrow/lock; David Panter, back three; Rory Parata, centre; Jacob Walshe, loosehead prop. YEAR 1, Ciaran Gaffney, back three; Jack Dinneen, hooker; Marc Kelly, back row; Conor McKeon, outhalf; Peter Robb, centre.

Released: Tadgh Leader (Boston Wolfhounds ), Peter Reilly (Waimate RFC, NZ ), Steve Macauley (Waimate RFC, NZ ), Marcus Walsh (Life University, US ), Conor Kindregan.

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