Connacht have promoted six players from their academy to Andy Friend’s first-team squad for next season, the batch of graduates including Conor Dean, the son of 1989 British and Irish Lions player Paul, who was the winner of 32 Ireland caps between 1981 and 1989.
The former out-half was Ireland team manager under Joe Schmidt in recent years, but the 59-year-old stepped down last December and can now sit back and watch how his 22-year-old son progresses as a first-year professional at Connacht.
Dean – an out-half like his father – has already been capped by Connacht, starting at Thomond Park against Munster in the final game of the 2018/19 Guinness PRO14 regular season. He also impressed for Connacht Eagles in their most recent Celtic Cup campaign, the squad winning five of their seven games.
There was surprise last Friday when Connacht announced last Friday that a dozen players would be leaving at the end of June. The respective exits of Colby Fainga’a and Robin Copeland to French sides Lyon and Soyaux Angouleme had already been flagged, but the farewell of some of the other names caught the eye.
Among the list was Niyi Adeolokun, the 29-year-old Nigerian-born winger capped by Schmidt’s Ireland versus Canada in November 2016, veteran New Zealander Tom McCartney and fellow Connacht centurion Eoin McKeon.
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To offset this, the Irish province announced that Munster players Sammy Arnold and Conor Oliver, and Leinster duo Jack Aungier and Oisin Dowling would be joining them in Galway from July 1. That intake has now been bolstered by the promotion of Dean and five more young prospects from the academy – Niall Murray, Colm Reilly, Sean Masterson, Jordan Duggan and Peter Sullivan
Lock Murray featured last December in the Champions Cup win over Gloucester while back row Masterson made a PRO14 debut versus Benetton. Reilly is a scrum-half, Duggan a prop and Sullivan a winger.
Friend said: “I’m a firm believer a club’s lifeline is its academy structure and this exciting group of young players proves that the Connacht academy is extremely healthy and will continue to have a positive impact on our squad going forward.
Academy boss Eric Elwood added: “It has been a pleasure to watch the players develop and grow over the years and we wish them well on the next step of their journey in their rugby careers.”
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