‘He is a real talent‘ – Why Leinster‘s best-kept secret is primed to make an impact this season

The continuous conveyor belt at Leinster just keeps rolling them out from Ireland‘s next hooker in Ronan Kelleher to Leinster‘s current openside in Will Connors.

Increasingly, it is becoming more difficult to keep up with the annual production line.

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Last season, Scott Penny was the name on everyone‘s lips; the year before James Ryan and Jordan Larmour.

Walking the corridors out at Leinster headquarters in UCD, attending occasional 15-minute windows at their training sessions at Energia Park, speaking to coaches and team managers in the All-Ireland League, there is one name that comes up more often than not – Dan Sheehan.

There was a time when Leinster looked light in the hooking department.

Richardt Strauss was intermittently injured in the latter part of his decade-long career at Leinster, retiring at the end of the 2017/2018 season.

Sean Cronin arrived into Leinster in 2011 and, gradually, moved from an impact role to that of the main man.

All the while, the brains trust at Leinster were well-aware that elite international hookers were not being generated.

It was worry about the lack of these specialists that prompted John Fogarty to suggest loose-head James Tracy should move into the middle of the front row.

The Kildare man, just 28, has been consistent enough to earn six Ireland caps and became a centurion when backing-up Kelleher in Lyon ten days ago.

Tracy has added nine caps this season, just two from the start to sit behind Kelleher and ahead of Bryan Byrne.

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The highly-skilled Byrne, 26, has struggled to stay healthy long enough to press his claims in recent years, making two appearances off the wood this season against Zebre and Glasgow on Saturday.

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Certainly, Kelleher has exploded onto the Champions Cup scene with all the assurance and physicality of a veteran, moving ahead of Tracy and Byrne.

The proof is in selection, starting all seven of his caps, two in Europe against Benetton and Lyon.

There is still no sign of Cronin returning from a neck injury, although his training load is increasing this week.

Even so, the Limerick man is 33 years young and not part of the 10-year plan.

This all takes us around to Leinster academy recruit Sheehan, now playing for Lansdowne in the All-Ireland League in a shirt that was the preserve of Kelleher until this season.

There is something else Sheehan shares with Kelleher, an eye for a try, notching eight-from-eight appearances in the Celtic Cup this season.

Previously, Sheehan spent two seasons with Dublin University, making an impact on the Director of Rugby Tony Smeeth.

“He is a real talent. He has a nice, nasty streak to him,” said Smeeth.

“He is a really big, really physical hooker with a really good throw together with great skills. I would describe him as a baller.”

The Clongowes Wood College graduate has been something of a slow-burner at the professional level, a late bloomer of sorts.

Originally, there was a doubt over his height, standing 6‘3” in what is usually a shorter man‘s game.

The 21-year-old has grown into his frame and stands comparison with anyone as a 110kg specimen.

Expect to see Sheehan pop up and stand out in his Leinster debut sometime before the end of the season.

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