If you missed the opening piece of the Exiled Irish series, check it out here. The Touchline’s mission to highlight Irish professionals playing outside Ireland continues today with this selection. After a weekend where the starting teams in the Munster vs. Leinster game included only 6 players under the age of 25, this hypothetical line-up looks at some of the younger Irish players who are currently contracted in England.
Most of these guys moved with the desire for more first-team action in a professional set-up. Without the transfers, many of them would probably be playing in the Ulster Bank League, as well the occasional ‘A’ match. Their moves to England, for the large part, have given them exposure to regular first-team rugby in a fully professional environment. Part 1 includes only the back line, with a pack to follow tomorrow.
Please get involved by leaving a comment with your opinions on Irish players contracted abroad. If you’ve seen any of these guys playing, let me know your impressions. Do you think many of them will return to play in Ireland, or maybe push for international honours even if they remain in England? Would you rather see a young Irish player move to the Championship or learn his trade in the academy/development system at home?
15. David McIlwaine
The 22-year-old fullback/wing joined Championship side Doncaster Knights from Ulster at the start of this season following the signing of Jared Payne. McIlwaine made 8 appearances on the wing for Ulster in 2010/11 but his desire to play at fullback, coupled with Payne’s arrival convinced him to move on. A former Ireland U18, U19 international, McIlwaine has settled well in Doncaster. Ever-present in the back three, he’s scored 6 tries as well as taking over the place-kicking duties midway through the season. EDIT: The latest news is that McIlwaine has signed a deal with Bristol for next season. Bristol are currently involved in the promotion play-offs, so McIlwaine could well be playing Premiership rugby next season!
14. Stephen MacAuley
The 19-year-old was predominantly a fullback at underage level, but has played plenty of rugby on the wing too. A standout player in the 2010 Leinster Schools Cup for Clongowes, MacAuley opted to take up an Academy offer from Leicester Tigers at the start of the 2010/11 season with Leinster slow to make a move. This season, he has been prolific for the Tigers’ Academy side, scoring 9 tries in 14 starts. He has also made a handful of appearances for the ‘A’ team. A senior debut should follow sooner rather than later.
Tigers Profile: Stephen MacAuley
13. Shane Monahan
One of the large Irish contingent at the Rotherham Titans, 25-year-old Monahan has played on the wing for most of his career. He lists his preferred position as outside centre though, so is included at 13. The ex-Leinster and Connacht wide man had a serious reputation at underage level, helping Ireland to their famous U20 Grand Slam in 2007. However, opportunities at Leinster and Connacht were few and far between. Monahan, a physically imposing winger, has dotted down 10 times for the Titans already in his debut season. EDIT: Monahan’s form has earned him a move to Gloucester for next season, so he will definitely be playing Premiership rugby!
12. Gareth Quinn-McDonagh
20-year-old Quinn-McDonagh is mainly an outhalf, but is equally comfortable at inside centre. The Shannon man was in his second year of the Munster Academy when he decided to join the Doncaster Knights on a short-term loan in February. Since then, the ex-Ireland U19 and U20 international has established himself as first-choice and his stock has risen with some strong displays. The youngster is enjoying himself, claiming that the Championship is “much better than the AIL that I was playing in at home.” EDIT: Quinn-McDonagh is set to leave the Knights at the end of this season. There’s no word yet on where he is heading next.
Knights Profile: Gareth Quinn-McDonagh
11. Michael Keating
Keating is a team mate of Quinn-McDonagh and McIlwaine at Doncaster. Another versatile player, the Ireland U20 international has featured at fullback and on the wing for the Knights this season. A Schools Junior and Senior Cup winner with Belvedere, the 22-year-old joined Leinster in 2009, but was limited to just 4 senior appearances over the next two seasons. That prompted his move to Doncaster on a one-year deal at the start of this season. He has shown his talent with 9 tries and a string of excellent performances. Has a big future wherever he chooses to play.
10. Michael Heaney
Yet another of Doncaster’s Irish crew, Heaney is actually a scrumhalf. Fitting everyone into this team is the main concern here, so the ex-Ulster Academy is chosen at outhalf due to his strong kicking game. The 22-year-old won two Ulster Schools Cups with Methodist College before going on the represent Ireland at U19 and U20 level. A place in the Ulster set-up followed, but when Doncaster came calling in December, Heaney jumped at the opportunity. He has been vying with club captain Chris Hallam for the no. 9 jersey, but has featured far more extensively than he would have at Ulster. EDIT: Heaney is set to leave the Knights at the end of the season. Like Quinn-McDonagh, it’s still unclear where he will be playing next season.
9. Paul Rowley
A graduate of the Munster Academy, Rowley joined Plymouth Albion at the beginning of this season due to the lack of opportunities at his province. Back in 2005, Rowley was a standout performer as St. Munchin’s won the Senior Schools Cup. He went on to represent Munster at U18, U19, U20 and ‘A’ levels. International honours narrowly evaded him in a competitive age-group. The 24-year-old has been unlucky with injuries, and his first season at Plymouth has seen him plagued by an ankle problem. Hopefully, surgery can remedy that and we will see the physical scrumhalf more regularly next season.