Carbery moves on but question marks over fellow Kildare men at Leinster
By Daire Walsh
WITH nine major honours accrued in the past decade, Leinster have proven themselves to be one of the great success stories of Irish rugby during the professional era.
While they entered the past campaign on the back of three consecutive campaigns without a trophy to show for their efforts, they spectacularly brought this dry spell to an end with magnificent Champions Cup and Guinness PRO14 triumphs.
Like all of their previous victories, the county of Kildare was well represented within the Blues’ squad.
Despite losing Naas’ Jamie Heaslip to retirement in February, Joey Carbery, James Tracy, Fergus McFadden and Adam Byrne kept the flag flying for the Lilywhites in his absence.
Yet, though each player enjoyed unforgettable moments at provincial and international level in the past 12 months, there was also an element of frustration with the way their respective seasons progressed. As mentioned elsewhere in these pages, Athy native Carbery will be plying his trade with Munster after he returns from Ireland’s summer tour to Australia. Although there was already much discussion about Carbery when he shone in the 2017 November series, it is also provided the Kill duo of James Tracy and Adam Byrne with opportunities on the international stage.
Tracy already had four Ireland caps under his belt prior to his front-row cameos against Fiji and Argentina at the Aviva Stadium. With eight Leinster starts to his name at the beginning of January, he appeared to be head of Sean Cronin – who was left out of the Ireland squad in November – in the provincial pecking order.
This was before an injury stalled his development, allowing Cronin to profit for both Leinster and Ireland. Aside from the notable exception of PRO14 games against Zebre and Connacht, Tracy was restricted to the replacements bench by Leo Cullen.
He played a vital role in the closing-quarter of Leinster’s Champions Cup and PRO14 final wins, however, and will continue to push Cronin for the coveted No 2 jersey. Following an impressive 2016/17, the aforementioned Byrne found first-team opportunities were at a premium in the current term. Even though injuries also robbed him of precious game-time, he ended the season in the British & Irish Cup with the province’s ‘A’ team.
His Ireland debut at home to Argentina was a dream come true for the Naas CBS alumnus, and he still managed to accumulate 14 Leinster caps at senior level. Intense competition on the wings ensured he was out of the picture for their remarkable European journey, though, with fellow Kildare man McFadden initially proving to be Cullen’s go-to option on the right-wing.
One of the most experienced operators in the squad, McFadden’s impressive club displays led to an Ireland recall – and he subsequently featured in Six Nations clashes with France and Wales.
While he was eventually replaced in the match-day 23 by Jordan Larmour, he kept the young hopeful out of the Leinster side for Champions Cup duels against Saracens and Scarlets.
The Suncroft star’s season then came to an end in the latter fixture, when he injured his hamstring in the act of scoring a first-half try. This offered Larmour with an opportunity to start the resulting finals in the back-three, and McFadden will have a tough task on his hand to dislodge the 20-year-old from September onwards.
Will Connors (Donadea) and Jimmy O’Brien (Eadestown) were prominent figures for Leinster ‘A’ in the past two seasons in the British & Irish Cup, but with this competition now at an end, a return to an interprovincial series could be on the cards for the province’s second string.