One player who has epitomised what was once an ‘alternative’ route to senior provincial rugby is Seán O’Brien, the Tullow native breaking into the Leinster team in 2008.
Since then O’Brien has gone on to make 110 appearances for Leinster, won 49 caps for Ireland, and has been selected on two British & Irish Lions tours.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Late Late Show last Friday night, O’Brien reflected on his journey on the player pathway, and the players who went before him and have followed since through the Youths system, such as Tadhg Furlong, Adam Byrne and Peter Dooley, to name a few.
“It’s very different now, they’re looking outside the box a lot more at younger fellas and trying to find a bit more raw talent.”
The Shane Horgan Cup, named for the former Leinster winger who came through the Youths system, is a competition that provides competitive games for the under-16 development squads in all five Leinster areas (Metro, South East, North East, Midlands and North Midlands).
Following on from the under-16s, the next age grade is the under-17s, at this stage of the programme players train at one of three centres around the province as they work to bring their skills to the next level.’
As is the case now, O’Brien was part of a wider group of players who were selected for screening days and ultimately a squad to represent Leinster at U18 Youth level in an Interprovincial Series, with the two U18 Club and School teams then coming together at U19 level.
“We used to go to a south-east trial where there could’ve been 120 lads at it and you get picked every year on how you’re developing over a two-year period,” O’Brien explained to host Ryan Tubridy.
“It was tough to get spotted and you need a little bit of luck as well, and I just got a little bit of luck at the right time. But I was working incredibly hard and training hard. I was still playing with Tullow at the time until I moved up to Dublin.”