The Exiled Irish: Youth XV Pack

Mike Ross

Mike Ross was playing for Harlequins as recently as 2009. Will any of the players below match his success? (c) Andy Scrutton.

Following on from yesterday’s Youth XV Backline, The Touchline selects a forward pack of young Irish players who are currently contracted in England. Again, the key here is to highlight the fact that there is Irish talent playing outside of this country. In Ireland we can often be quite blinkered in our support of the provinces and the national team. Irish players should be encouraged and supported in moves abroad. The more professional players we have the better.

Check out the first Exiled Irish piece of the series for four examples of Irish players whose moves abroad have been particularly successful (two of whom would have been included here if they weren’t already highlighted there!).


1. Shane Cahill

A Leinster Schools Senior Cup winner with Blackrock in 2005 alongside Luke Fitzgerald, Niall Morris and Dave Moore, Cahill went on to represent the Irish Colleges team in ’08. Several years playing AIL with Blackrock RFC followed, before the prop had a trial with the Doncaster Knights. His strength and power impressed and Cahill signed for the ’10/11 campaign. At the start of this season, the Rotherham Titans swooped to sign the Dubliner. Competing with fellow Irish man Jamie Kilbane for the loosehead slot, Cahill has come out on top, starting all four of the recent promotion play-off games. The 24-year-old’s impressive form has resulted in him penning a contract extension with the Titans this week.

Titans Profile: Shane Cahill     Twitter: @cahill_shane

2. Jason Harris-Wright

The Ireland U19 and U20 international spent several seasons in the senior Leinster set-up, making a total of 10 appearances, even coming off the bench for the closing minutes of the 2011 Heineken Cup final. However, the signing of Sean Cronin at the start of this season convinced the 23-year-old to join Bristol in the Championship. Harris-Wright has been competing with ex-Blues hooker Ross Johnston for the No. 2 jersey, but has featured far more than he would have done at Leinster. Having played plenty of underage rugby in the backrow, Harris-Wright is a dynamic ball carrier. With Bristol currently involved in promotion play-offs, we may see him in the Premiership next year.

Bristol Profile: Jason Harris-Wright     Twitter: @jayharriswright

3. Royce Burke-Flynn

The 25-year old prop showed his potential for Ireland at Schools and U19 levels. Having graduated from St. Michael’s, he joined the Leinster Academy. During his time with there, he had a short-term spell in South Africa with Western Province. In 2009, with little opportunity at Leinster, Burke-Flynn moved to Italian outfit Livorno. The following season he joined French Pro D2 team Montauban before signing for Doncaster Knights for the current campaign. The 6’3″, 122kg Dubliner has been rotated with Alex Brown at tighthead, while also making several appearances at loosehead. His versatility and strength make him worth keeping an eye on, especially with Ireland’s current propping situation.

Knights Profile: Royce Burke-Flynn     Twitter: @RoyceBurkeFlynn


4. James Sandford

This is a 23-year-old with a serious CV. After captaining both the Ulster and Irish Schools sides he was named the Northern Bank Schools Player of the Year in ’06/07. Sandford went on to captain the Ulster U20s and play two years at Ireland U20 level. 2008 saw him win an Irish Examiner Junior Sports Star award. Following a disruptive shoulder injury, the Ulster man took a calculated risk in joining the Rotherham Titans for the ’10/11 season. The move paid off as the 6’6″ second-row’s 10 starts and 2 tries earned him a move to Premiership side London Irish this season. He has made 8 appearances to date and recently signed a new two-year deal. A physical player who is a great lineout jumper, he also has a big engine and a big future.

Irish Profile: James Sandford     Twitter: @JamesSandford4

5. Eoin Sheriff

An Irish U18, U19 and U20 international, Sheriff came through the Leinster Academy, and made one substitute against the Warriors in 2010. He subsequently played AIL with both Lansdowne and Shannon before joining Premiership outfit Saracens on a short-term trial midway through this season. The 6’5″ lock has made two appearances since, starting an LV= Cup match and coming off the bench in the Premiership. He has done enough to have his time extended at Saracens, although the length of the deal remains unclear. Hopefully he can continue to impress and secure a long-term contract.

Saracens Profile: Eoin Sheriff

6. John Downey

An explosive back-rower, Downey came through at Presentation Bray, representing Leinster at Schools and U19 levels. In 2007, he played for the Ireland U19s alongside the likes Eoin O’Malley, Ian Nagle and Mike Sherry. A breakthrough in the Leinster set up never came, although Downey represented Ireland Colleges in 2009 alongside Robin Copeland. He moved to England to join Richmond for the ’09/10 season, doing enough to earn a move to Championship side Esher the following season. The 23-year-old has been in and out of the squad this season as Esher have fought what now looks like a losing battle against relegation. Still, Downey has forged a promising career for himself.

Esher Profile: John Downey


7. Peter Synnott

A team mate of Downey’s at Esher, Synnott has made 14 starts this season.  A Leinster Schools and U20 representative in the same age-group as Ian Madigan, Dominic Ryan and Tom Sexton, Synnott went on to play for Leinster ‘A’. However, a contract with Leinster never materialised and the back-row played in the AIL with Clontarf for a couple of years. He secured a deal with Esher at the start of this season and has performed well so far, even taking over the place-kicking duties recently! With Esher almost certainly getting relegated from the Championship, he will hope to catch another club’s eye for next season.

Twitter: @synnott_peter     Impressive Deadlift Video: Youtube


8. Michael Noone

An Irish U19 and U20 international in the same year as Peter O’Mahony, Dave Kearney and Ian Madigan, Noone has long been recognised as a great prospect. He represented Leinster right up to ‘A’ level but that’s where the chances dried up. That prompted his move to the Doncaster Knights at the start of this season and the 22-year-old has excelled in his 21 appearances so far. A typical Irish back-row, in that he is a powerful ball carrier who can play at 6 or 8, Noone has plenty of time on his side. He has agreed to join the Rotherham Titans next season, replacing his compatriot Robin Copeland. Noone will hope to have a similar impact to the Cardiff Blues-bound Irish man.

Knights Profile: Michael Noone     Twitter: @Mick8noone 


Photo courtesy:  Andy Scrutton.

10 responses to “The Exiled Irish: Youth XV Pack

  1. Roryokane_raz_

    Good article very interesting. In your opinion how many of these players have the ability to make an impact at any of the provinces? I’d be surprised if any of them develop into international players unfortunately. I seen that next season Niall Annett and James McKinney are rumored to be joining Bristol which would be good moves for them.George McGuigan an 19 year old hooker for Newcastle who is Irish qualified. As is Charlie Ingall a winger for wasps who has good potential.

    Also Id like to hear your opinion on Irelands mismanagement of exiles. Ireland have missed out on Paul Doran-Jones Irish mother, grew up in county Meath, went to uni in Dublin, in the Leinster system for 4 years and underage caps for Ireland yet we miss out on him. Also Kieran Brookes, , Andrew Sheridan, Nick Kennedy, Shane Geraghty, Kieran Roache, Declan Danagher were all lost in the system to mismanagement. Whilst others like Stephen Moore who went on record about how he was keep to represent Ireland early in his career. Although many of the aforementioned players wouldnt be good enough to represent Ireland, and others like sheridan may never have been let slip by England. losing Moore, and Doran-Jones especially annoy me. Espically as if Connor O’Shea’s London Irish plan had worked.

    • I think many of the players featured here certainly have the ability to make an impact at the provinces (particularly Connacht). As an example, when James Downey left Ireland to join Calvisano in Italy, I don’t think anyone would’ve predicted him ending up back with Munster, where he’s likely to be first-choice next season. Guys like McIlwaine and Harris-Wright, amongst others, were very close to breaking through at their provinces. They’ve taken a ‘risk’ by moving abroad to get more playing time and in my opinion that should be applauded. The easier thing would be stay and play ‘A’ matches and the occasional sub appearance in the PRO12. It depends how they develop really!

      As you’ve said yourself, there has been mismanagement of Irish exiles. There are many players out there who could have been strong international players for us. In fairness, I think the IRFU have recognised this and have appointed Mark Blair to a new position finding Irish-qualified talent in Britain. So hopefully we will miss less of these lads.

      One of the major reasons I decided to write these pieces is that I really feel Irish players need to start looking for opportunities outside of the provinces, even if they don’t definitely have the talent to go on and play international rugby. As I said in the first piece of the series, there are so few chances for young guys in Ireland. Leinster and Munster have been two of the biggest club sides in the world in recent times, while Ulster appear to be heading that way too. It’s bloody hard for lads to break into those three teams in particular.

      There are Irish players who waste their careers trying to do so when they could be making a good living elsewhere. I’m not trying to suggest that every young guy who has to sit on the bench leaves the country. However, I do feel that we have a very insular view of rugby in Ireland, myself included! There’s others who don’t make the grade at Leinster, Munster and Ulster who may lose hope of a career, when they could take a chance abroad!

      I’ve heard of McGuigan and Ingal but know next to nothing about them! Any more info on them? Have they played underage for Ireland?
      Could you tell us a bit more about the what happened with Stephen Moore? His parents are Irish aren’t they?

  2. Roryokane_raz_

    Both Of Stephen Moore’s parents were Irish, grew up in Tuam, Galway where all of his relatives remain.Moved to Australia aged five as his dad had work commintments. In 2004 or so he made public his Irish qualification to the Irfu. and said at half-time of the Munster-Oz game last year on Rte that he seriously considered going to Ireland to play. And talked of how he kept his Irish accent well into school where he worked hard to lose it to ‘fit in’. then he got a big break with the brumbies in 2004 and was offered international honours with oz in 2005. At which point Irish provinces approached him whuch he rejected

  3. Roryokane_raz_

    Sorry he made his breakthrough with the reds, my apoligises.

  4. Really interesting, didn’t know that. Cheers for filling us in. He really is one that got away… Sounds like the IRFU acted way too slowly there, he could have been brilliant for one of the provinces and Ireland. Real pity.

  5. Roryokane_raz_

    I just seen something interesting about Peter Synott of Esher, he was taking place kicks for Esher this weekend at the end of the match and converted 2 conversions. First forward ive seen do so since John Eales

    • Yeah fair play to him, it’s a great addition to have to his game! Who doesn’t like a place-kicking forward?! Always good to see. Didn’t help Esher too much unfortunately, they’re going down…

  6. Excellent review, very thought-provoking. I have serious concerns about the effectiveness of the Academy system as constructed here in Ireland. The numbers listed in your blog are testament to the effectiveness of the skills development. Unfortunately, the side that is neglected is developing match-hardness. Simply, the guys do not play sufficient rugby. This is particularly important for forwards (personal bias!)
    I think it is great to see young players focusing on match opportunity, albeit overseas. I’m not a big fan of the English club game but I have to admit, the forwards learn and ply their trade. Perhaps there is an argument for youth leagues with weekly games centred around Irish, Welsh, English and Scottish clubs?
    And, as others have stated, the IRFU has to be more cognigent of Irish-qualified players overseas. Indeed, I believe they HAVE to relax the Irish-domiciled qualification rule.

    • Thanks Brian. You’ve got it spot on that our young players just aren’t getting enough rugby at a sufficient level. England is certainly a good option, and we’re seeing increasing success, particularly this year. Robin Copeland has earned a move to the Blues, Jason Harris-Wright earned a move to Connacht, Shane Monohan to Gloucester and David McIlwaine to Bristol who are likely to get promoted next year.
      The idea of a youth league across Ireland and Britain is definitely a good one and I think we’ll see something like it in the near future. Similar to the B&I Cup but more extensive.
      It’s got to be frustrating for guys at the age of 22 and 23 who haven’t even had a chance to play for their province yet despite the level of talent they have. As you say, the IRFU needs to have a more positive view of players leaving the country. More Irish players getting rugby every weekend is only a good thing in my opinion!

  7. Doran-Jones was born in Enfield near London, not the Meath version. He was in school with James Haskell and moved to Dublin for college.

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