The Exiled Irish: Youth XV Backline

Ben Nutley and Ethan Waller Northampton Saints Academy vs Leicester Tigers Academy Franklin's Gardens 22 01 11

Stephen MacAuley (number 14) in action for Leicester’s Academy side. (c) Andy Kearns.

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!

Knights Profile: David McIlwaine     Twitter: @d_mcilwaine15


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!

Titans Profile: Shane Monahan     Twitter: @themainmanmono

12. Gareth Quinn-McDonagh


Quinn-McDonagh in action for Shannon at the start of the season. (c) Liam Coughlan.

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.

Knights Profile: Michael Keating     Twitter: M_Keats


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.

Knights Profile: Michael Heaney     Twitter: @MichaelHeaney9

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.

Albion Profile: Paul Rowley     Twitter: @paulrowley1987


Photo courtesy: Andy Kearns, Liam Coughlan.

28 responses to “The Exiled Irish: Youth XV Backline

  1. David McIlwaine looks like a very exciting player – some seriously impressive long range kicks in that video too! Good topic this exiled irish

    • Cheers bru. Yeah that penalty from well inside his own half is ridiculous! Didn’t start the season as first-choice kicker but you can see what he offers. Really good prospect, had a bit of a breakthrough with Ulster but wasn’t guarunteed games so his move makes sense. Definitely see him playing at a higher level.

  2. This is a cracking article – a really informative read. Great work!

  3. Michael Noone is another at Doncaster this season., Number 8/Blindside played Leinster A , Leinster Academy and Ireland Schools, also represented Ireland at U19 and U20 level

    • Yeah great shout, Noone is already in the pack for the second part of this! Good to see that people are aware of some of the lads playing over in England, loads of good young players!

  4. Do you think they stand a chance of making the Irish national team while playing in England? Geordan Murphy is one of the most natural footballers and it seems that it went against him while a blind eye was turned to Bob Casey for years on end despite impressing for London Irish.

    • It definitely seems to have been the case that playing in England reduces your chance of international honours, the two you mentioned being prime examples. If some of these guys can get playing consistently good Premiership rugby then there’s no reason for them not to be considered though. Obviously the IRFU want as many Irish players as possible playing in Ireland, but the fact is there aren’t enough opportunities here for the amount of good young talents we have. I’d prefer to see Irish lads being encouraged to play abroad more often, and not given the impression that they’ll have no hope of international call-ups. That would increase the pool of players we’d have to choose from!

      But to answer your question – No, I don’t think they stand a chance of making the Irish team while playing in England, even if they were at Premiership level. Hope that changes though.

  5. K O'Domhnaill

    What about Gerard Mullen, the former Esher winger now at London Scottish in the Championship?

    • Absolutely brilliant shout! I’ll admit I didn’t know anything about him. Looks to have serious pace. Good record at schools level and a good pedigree too! Was he at Leicester for a while? Just trying to find out more about him…

  6. K O'Domhnaill

    As far as I know he was at Leicester for a bit after school before signing for Esher. Certainly has serious pace and was prolific for them last year. Has been unlucky with injuries this season though it seems, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of the provinces were monitoring his progress. Great article by the way, think Quinn-McDonagh is the most talented of the names above

    • Good stuff, sounds promising. Yeah, that would be the hope alright, the provinces keeping an eye on talent like these guys. Cheers, Quinn-McDonagh seems to have done well at Doncaster. Expect that Munster will bring him back, although he might be tempted by another spell over there next season. Great that he’s been getting games either way!

  7. why no love for gareth steenson?

    • Hey Jonesy, plenty of love for him, don’t worry. He’ll be in another piece over the next few weeks! For this one I was trying to keep it with guys under-25. He’s a bit older than the others featured here. He’ll definitely be featured soon though!
      He seems to have fallen behind Mieres this season, do you think he can claim the 10 jersey back??

  8. Roryokane_raz_

    Great article although one of the notable omissions from my point of view is Bristols jack Tovey who has been tearing up the championship this season

    • Yeah I came across him, but hadn’t heard of him before. Couldn’t find out for certain if he’s Irish? He seems to have gone through school and everything over there. Can you tell us a bit about him? As you say he has been ripping it up!

  9. Roryokane_raz_

    Well Jack Tovey is English born but Irish qualified. and has as far as i know kept his allegiance to us, Primarily a full-back or outside centre. he is 22 and 6’2 and he has been a key fixture for Bristols backline this season. unfortunately thats the extent of my knowledge.

    • Just checked his record out – 10 tries in 23 starts this season, including 2 in the 4 play-off matches! Definitely one for the IRFU’s new guy Mark Blair to keep in touch with, especially if he’s playing Premiership Rugby next season. Nice find Rory!

  10. Roryokane_raz_

    I was on Bristol rugby’s wikipedia (Not the most reliable source) and noticed that their winger matt williams is Irish qualified, he scored alot of tries at rotheram and is still only 22/23. Could you shed any insight on his elgibility? Seems a decent winger with good potential. but i couldnt see any thing else which alludes to his eligibility.

  11. mieres is solid but not great with the place kicking…steenson has a battle on his hands but still has racked up a good amount of starts this year…he deserves more having been the promotion hero 2 seasons ago and helped to build that exeter team…given how the premiership revenue allocation severely hinders the newly promoted teams it’s great to see the chiefs stick it to the assholes in charge

  12. Roryokane_raz_

    I see Shane Monaghan has signed for Gloucester, which is further evidence that these moves work after McIIwaine earned a more to Bristol, I see that Royce Burke_flynn and Gareth Quinn-McDonagh are also leaving Rotterham but no destinations are confirmed

    • Yeah delighted for McIlwaine. Hadn’t seen the Monahan news, so cheers for the heads up! I’ll update the piece to include that news.
      Yeah, Burke-Flynn, Quinn-McDonagh and Michael Heaney are all leaving Doncaster, but the club website has no info on where they are going. Will be interesting to see their next moves!

  13. Roryokane_raz_

    do you think any of those three players has the potential to earn a move to a province or to the primership or even a better championship club? Burke-Flynn has an intresting cv for a TH, played in Italian and French leagues, and Quinn McDonagh is relatively higly rated in munster..dont know much about Micheal Heaney

  14. I think they all have the potential to move to at least a better Championship side, or low level Prem side. That’s purely based on what I’ve heard though. Because the Championship is rarely televised here, it’s hard to know what they’re really like. All three definitely have potential though.
    Burke-Flynn’s CV is definitely attractive as you say. I know Heaney is highly rated in Ulster too, as is Quinn-McDonagh in Munster. From what I’ve read, they all played well this season too so I don’t think they’ll have any trouble finding a good club. Moves back to the provinces look unlikely at this stage, but possibly a bit further down the line. That said, Quinn-McDonagh would have still been in the Munster Academy if he hadn’t left, so they might take another look, especially with Declan Cusack possibly off to England!

  15. Roryokane_raz_

    I just seen today that Robin Copland and Jack Tovey were both included in the championship team of the year. Also interestingly Copland gained more votes than any other player (voted for by managers) with 7/12 managers chosing him. Also seen many fans rating him highly as a Tom Croft type blindside very effective in the lineout, i look forward to seeing him in the Heineken cup with the blues next season

  16. That’s more great news! Go on the Irish! Yeah that’s a decent comparison for Copeland actually. He’s played in the second-row a lot so is good in the lineout. His pace is very impressive too. He played fullback in his school days up until 4th year I think, so that gives a hint as to why he’s so good with ball in hand. With so many players leaving the Blues, he should get plenty of game time. Really excited to see how he goes!

  17. Gareth Quinn McDonagh has returned to Limerick and playing for Young Munster. Before his English trip was playing for Shannon so a change of Limerick club for him too. Wonder why?
    No mention of him on Munster website as senior or development squad member.

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