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The Munster Rugby Academy

27th November 2008 By Munster Rugby

With the recent focus on our younger players impressing against the All Blacks, we take an in depth look at the Munster Rugby Academy structure.

With the recent focus on our younger players impressing against the All Blacks, we take an in depth look at the Munster Rugby Academy structure.

The Munster Rugby Academy was initiated in 2004 to prepare young Irish eligible players for life in and beyond professional rugby. The goals of the Academy are to provide a select group of young players with the skills, discipline, knowledge and attitude needed to succeed at Domestic (Magners League) and European (Heineken Cup) levels, and hopefully one day – at National level. The Academy provides the support and guidance to achieve the qualifications and experience necessary for life in and beyond professional rugby.

Players are selected for the Academy as a result of previous Provincial or National playing experience, and at least two years of previous involvement in a progressive development training programme supervised by a qualified instructor. Sorry to say – it is not as easy as asking "How do I join?" There is a thorough identification process in place throughout the province which commences with players aged 14.

The Munster Rugby Academy falls under the IRFU High Performance Unit, allowing for long term development across the provinces whilst ensuring that home grown talent is nurtured and invested in.

The Academy is a three-year programme running from July to June each year. It is managed by a board of directors which include Director of Coaching, Tony McGahan, Munster Rugby CEO Garrett Fitzgerald, former Munster and Ireland Captain Philip Danagher, Academy Manager Ian Sherwin and the Chairman, former Munster and Ireland Captain and Lions Manager, Donal Lenihan.

The Academy has grown in size and resources since its inception in 2004 and Academy Manager Ian Sherwin is now assisted by two skills coaches, Ray Egan and Ken O’ Connell, and two conditioning coaches, Fergal O’ Callaghan and Paudie Roche, each providing a wealth of experience in mentoring and guiding the Academy Players throughout the programme.

Is it possible to actually see the benefits of the Academy? – Yes, in so far as, we can identify the current crop of players who have at one point participated in or graduated from the Academy programme. Munster Rugby contracted players such as Denis Hurley, Mark Melbourne, Keith Earls, Donnacha Ryan, Ciaran O’ Boyle and Darragh Hurley all took part in or completed the Academy programme.

Other Academy participants have gone further afield in securing professional rugby contracts, including Sean Cronin (Connacht), Ian Hanley (Limoges) and Shane O’ Connor (Harlequins).

Currently the Academy has fifteen participants including seven players who joined this summer, so changes are aplenty and this is necessary for the success and future of the Academy. As players move on, new talent is identified and recruited. The stark reality is if there are no new players coming in the future for producing "home grown" players is bleak.

Academy members certainly undertake a full schedule which sees them balance their own club commitments, studies, personal life and Academy sessions on a weekly basis. It is this level of commitment that is required if players strive to advance into the professional game. Players train with their clubs twice a week with a match at the weekend and attend three Academy gym training sessions, three skills sessions and video analysis during the week. Senior team coaching staff assist in the design and delivery of the various skills sessions. Academy players also study modules such as time management, goal setting and nutritional advice.

Academy players are integrated into the first XV through attendance at training sessions and team meetings on a weekly basis. This inclusion gives them firsthand experience of rugby life within the senior set-up. The immediate goal for Academy players is to feature in an "A" representative game.

The Munster Rugby Supporters Club has been instrumental in funding the Academy and such provisions ensure the Academy operates in a fully resourced professional environment. This summer the Academy players and management were afforded a pre-season training camp in the Olympic Training Centre in Spala, Poland. The training centre has been used by the IRFU for the past eight seasons in preparing the senior International players during pre-season and it provided the ideal setting for an intensive training camp.

Travelling away for a training camp always has a galvanising effect on a squad and this camp was no different in that respect. It allowed the players to focus on the objectives for the week without any interruptions. Players lived in each others pockets and got to know each other on and off the field, and there was a fair level of competition among those vying for the same position. Leaders emerged, personal bests were achieved and expectations surpassed. The feedback from the players and staff was excellent and it would be hard to see future pre-seasons without such a camp.

The Munster Academy provides players with the knowledge, support and guidance to be the best they can be, both in a rugby environment and in life outside of rugby. Not everyone will make it in the professional era and the Academy recognises how vital it is to prepare for life after rugby. Staff assist Academy members to maximize personal, educational and career development opportunities. The programme is specifically monitored so as not to overload the individual players.

The Academy looks forward to the season ahead with "A" competitive games against Leinster, Ulster, Ospreys and Bristol. As ever the Academy members continue their training in the hopes of getting the chance to impress, and as it seems from last week, the future stars of Munster Rugby are already in the wings waiting!

Current Academy Members:
Dave Sherry (Garryowen); Dave Ryan (Dolphin); Evan Ryan (Cork Constitution); Murray Kinsella (UL Bohemians); Paul Rowley (UL Bohemians); Scott Deasy (UCC); Stephen Archer (UCC); Tommy O’ Donnell (UL Bohemians); Andrew Burke (Garryowen); Conor Murray (Garryowen); Ian Nagle (UCC); Kieran Essex (UL Bohemians); Dave Foley (UL Bohemians); Eoghan Grace (Shannon); Peter O’ Mahony (Cork Constitution)

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