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joy in green ‘He has a massive influence’ – Rónan Kelleher hails Paul O’Connell’s ‘aura’ as hooker finds feet with Ireland

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Leinster's Rónan Kelleher. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leinster's Rónan Kelleher. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leinster's Rónan Kelleher. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

RIGHTLY or wrongly, the perception from the outside looking in has been that as soon as Rónan Kelleher solidified his lineout throwing he would become Ireland’s first-choice hooker.

Last month, he nudged ahead of Rob Herring in the pecking order, while Kelleher’s Leinster’s team-mate Dan Sheehan also emerged as a live contender.

As any hooker will tell you, a shaky lineout is not just down to the throw, but rather a sum of the many moving parts involved in getting the set-piece right.

“That’s what we say anyway, it’s never our fault,” Kelleher laughs.

For such a powerful and skilful ball-carrier, it was only a matter of time before Andy Farrell fast-tracked Kelleher into the Ireland team, but he knew there was pressure on him to nail his basics.

“It’s fair enough I suppose,” he agrees, with regard to the feelings around his lineout throwing.

“There were a few times where obviously my throwing didn’t go the way I wanted, but that was something I knew myself was little fixes.

“It was just about getting back to work with Robin (McBryde) and ‘Fogs’ (John Fogarty), making sure I knew what I was doing.

“But also, a big part of it was just getting more comfortable with the lineout system. That was obviously a big help.”

After an impressive season that culminated in Kelleher equalling the record for most tries scored by an Ireland player in one game, when he crossed four times in the summer win over the United States, he soon found himself in South Africa with the Lions.

Although the 23-year-old didn’t make an appearance on tour, the experience was invaluable, and as soon as he returned to the international stage for last month’s Test matches, he picked up where he left off.

A strong showing against Japan was followed by impressive performances in the wins over New Zealand and Argentina.

“It was in the back of my mind to really have a crack at that window,” Kelleher says.

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“I felt I did well. I felt I took my opportunities. Obviously, there were some mistakes in there as well – but, overall, I was pleased.

“It was three good wins, but we are not just content with that. We know we have to get better in certain areas.

“We are constantly trying to strive for perfection – and in each of the games we fell short, no matter how well we played.

“It was just about doing my job really, so making sure my lineout throwing and role in the set-piece launches were down to a tee.”

Time in the saddle has certainly aided Kelleher’s development, while so, too, has the influence of those around him.

From finding his voice in terms of the make-up of the lineout and working closely with the callers, to picking the brain of McBryde in Leinster, and Fogarty and Paul O’Connell in Ireland, Kelleher is feeling more assured.

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Paul O'Connell has had a big influence on Rónan Kelleher. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Paul O'Connell has had a big influence on Rónan Kelleher. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Paul O'Connell has had a big influence on Rónan Kelleher. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile


O’Connell, in particular, has been crucial. Since coming in as Ireland’s forwards coach earlier this year, he has helped fix what was a weak point last year.

Kelleher and O’Connell’s relationship dates back to their Ireland U-20s days, so having built up that trust in the under-age ranks, Ireland are reaping the rewards.

“It’s his attention to detail really,” Kelleher says of the impact O’Connell has had on his game. “It’s not just around the lineout, he has a massive influence throughout the game, especially in terms of our breakdown.

“He is very detail-orientated and makes sure that we are 100pc on it every time. That accountability he brings to the system is probably the biggest thing.

“He coached me at 20s and you could sense the aura when he came in. It definitely hasn’t left him at all. Some people may lose it when you get to know them or whatever, but I think, because of his desire to win and attention to detail, he hasn’t lost it.

“He’s good analysis-wise, because he would pick up on little things that you might not pick up on yourself. If you are watching back training, you’re looking for particular things, but the depth he goes into is very accurate, you might not pick it up yourself.

“It’s only when you watch it back with him that you say these little things and how things I do affects the speed of our ruck ball and things like that.”

Kelleher will start on the bench for Leinster’s clash with Connacht on Friday evening, as Sheehan gets the nod. Given they are both 23, their rivalry has the potential to be one of the most fascinating battles in Irish rugby over the coming years.

With the Heineken Champions Cup opener against Bath to come next weekend, Kelleher will hope to get his starting spot back, but he will be keen to make a big impression off the bench at the RDS on Friday night, as Leinster look to bounce back from last week’s disappointing defeat to Ulster.

“Monday morning everyone was definitely hurt,” Kelleher added. “It’s not something we can dwell on. Connacht beat us at home last year, it’s a massive game for us.”

Ronan Kelleher was speaking before the start of the 2021/22 Heineken® Champions Cup next weekend, which marks the 27th consecutive season Heineken® has been a proud partner of European rugby, and the fifth season of the Heineken® and Rugby Players Ireland partnership.


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