Pathways to success, where blue stars are forged
November 11, 2016 10:18 am Elma Beirne
As these young players begin their rugby journey and take those first steps in our clubs and schools, the pathways that will see some of them achieving the dream of playing for Leinster are being managed by a former Leinster hero – Trevor Hogan (current Leinster Rugby Provincial Talent Coach).
Trevor who played for Leinster between 2006 and 2011 (won 4 Ireland caps and 59 Leinster caps), oversees a system that provides high level coaching to players who have shown the ability and work ethic required to progress their game. Separate pathways for club and schools players which eventually merge at U19s level are designed to give these players the best opportunity to make the most of their abilities while still playing and training with their club or school teams. The system means that players are exposed to expertise in nutrition, strength and conditioning, skill development and tactical knowledge. Each of these areas is developed as appropriate to growing, developing players.
Club players are given their first taste of the Player Development Pathways when they attend area screening sessions at U15s level. These are monthly sessions held in all five areas (Metro, South East, North East, Midlands and North Midlands) and they give every player an opportunity to train with Leinster coaches and step out of their comfort zone. Towards the end of the U15s season the players who are showing the most potential are then invited to attend further screening sessions and blitzes and from these an area squad is selected. John Bagnall is the Coaching Development Officer who oversees this process in the North Midlands area. By supporting and developing club coaches, John ensures that players are well prepared when they come to these screening sessions and he encourages club coaches to participate so that they too can step out of their comfort zone and work with Leinster coaches.
These area squads train during the summer before area U16s squads are finalised and these squads then train on a weekly basis and compete in the Shane Horgan Cup. This competition sees all five area U16s teams playing matches against each other. It gives coaches the opportunity to see their squads in competitive games as players face a tougher test than they are used to with their clubs.
The players who show the most potential during the U16s season are then invited to participate in the U17s development squad during the summer and those who progress spend the following season working in one of three centres across the province in what is known as the U17s Talent Identified Squad. There has been a change to this development stage this season and it sees players and coaches increasing their work load with pitch sessions every Monday and gym sessions every Wednesday.
Again, the players in this squad continue to play with their clubs who benefit from the extra work being done by these committed players. It is a particularly important year in the development of club players as those who progress become part of the Leinster U18s Clubs Squad and get the honour of competing in the blue of Leinster for the first time. Under the watchful eye of former Springbok Dan Van Zyl this squad plays tour matches and also competes in the Interprovincial series. For the likes of Seán O’Brien and Tadhg Furlong this was the point when they first became Leinster players.
For schools players, the pathway is slightly different, although the ultimate destination is the same. Players aged 15 train and compete in the Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Junior Cup and schools league competitions and fine-tune their skills within their school environment. Players who perform well at Junior level will then be invited to participate in an U17s Summer Programme which will be their first experience of working with the Leinster Player Development coaches. From there they move to Senior Cup level with their schools but monthly ‘Leinster sessions’ ensure continued individual and squad development.
The Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior Cup is a hugely significant competition in Irish rugby and players such as Brian O’Driscoll and Cian Healy still boast of their success in the Schools Cup. It offers players a stage on which to impress and achieve a place on the Leinster Schools U18s Squad. Being a part of this squad means exciting summer tours and the opportunity to pull on a Leinster jersey in the Schools Interprovincial Series.
The best school and club players then come together as part of the U19s squad. This is the culmination of the underage stages and the U19s games are seen as the marquee Interprovincial series. This season has also seen the addition of a really exciting 7s series for the U19s squads.
For those who are then selected for the Sub-Academy, Donnybrook Stadium becomes their rugby home as this is where they meet for morning strength and conditioning sessions and afternoon pitch sessions. This stage requires professional levels of self-discipline and a committed work ethic as Academy players combine college, study and training. The potential rewards are huge with the full Academy within touching distance and the team ethos within this group means that they encourage and motivate each other to progress.
For the lucky ones who are offered full Academy contracts the reality of professional rugby has been achieved. These players train alongside the senior squad and are part of specialist skills sessions and gym sessions with some of the best players in the world. Working with Academy Manager, Peter Smyth, and the rest of the Academy coaching staff, players can look back at the pathway that they followed with pride as they look forward to making their full Leinster debut.
A dream that started with minis rugby was built on a foundation of hard work and commitment to a proven system run by professional coaches. Blue stars don’t just appear, they are forged by this system that combines the crucial elements – dedicated club and school coaches, committed parents and development coaches who continue to produce elite players. But most importantly these stars share a common willingness to work hard, to push themselves and to never give up on that dream.