Irish rugby | Six Connacht Academy players sign first professional contracts

Connacht Rugby has announced that six Academy players have signed professional contracts starting in the 2022/23 season.

The six players are Cathal Forde, Shane Jennings, Oisin McCormack, Darragh Murray, Ciaran Booth and Diarmuid Kilgallen, and today’s news represents another important hallmark for the Connacht route system.

Playing in the center and outside half, the Galway-born Forde was instrumental in Ireland’s Under-20 Six Nations campaign last year, where he received praise for his performances.

The 20-year-old most recently played for Galway Corinthians in the Energia All-Ireland League. He played his school rugby with Colaiste Iognaid (The Jes).

Like Forde, Jennings also had a major impact on the Irish U-20 scene last year. Another product of the Connacht pad system, he has played for Ballinasloe RFC and Garbally College and primarily plays center.

More recently, he was a member of the Irish Sevens squad at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Canada.

McCormack is another alumni of Garbally College and Ballinasloe RFC, playing with his friend Jennings from a young age.

He has a unique accolade in scoring tries in consecutive Connacht Schools Senior Cup finals, landing in both the 2018 and 2019 deciders. The 20-year-old can play across the back row.

Darragh Murray is the second Murray brother to graduate from Connacht Academy, following in his older brother’s footsteps Niall.

Darragh, a fellow lock, was a member of the 2021 Ireland Under-20 squad and captained the Connacht Under-18s who won the 2018 Interprovincial Championship title. He came across the trail at Buccaneers RFC and Colaiste Chiarain Athlone.

Booth first joined the Connacht Academy in the summer of 2020, coming from Sale Sharks.

The 21-year-old was born in Stockport and is Irish qualified, having played for Ireland in the 2019 World Rugby Under-20 Championship. Primarily a flanker, he can also play at number 8 or second row.

Kilgallen is no stranger to Connacht supporters who have already played on the senior team five times.

The back three player made his debut at the Aviva Stadium against Munster in August 2020, and the Lansdowne Road venue was also the scene for his first try, when he scored an intercept against Ulster last October.

Connacht Rugby Academy Manager Eric Elwood paid tribute to the six players by saying: “I would like to congratulate the six men on their imminent transition to the pro team, and to their respective clubs and schools who have played a major role in their success.

“Everyone at Connacht Rugby has worked extremely hard at all levels to give them the platform to succeed and I would like to recognize the work of the coaches and wider Academy staff.

“That said, it’s up to the players themselves to seize the opportunities presented to them and that’s exactly what they’ve done. I know they all have what it takes to take that next step in their careers.”

Connacht head coach Andy Friend congratulated the six players on their contracts, noting: “This is a special day for Connacht Rugby as well as for Ciaran, Cathal, Shane, Diarmuid, Oisin and Darragh.

“They have each forged their own path to professional rugby through hard work and dedication, and with the help of their coaches, parents and volunteers.

“It is particularly gratifying that four out of six players came through the Connacht path and played their club and school rugby here in the west of Ireland.

“I look forward to further integrating them into the professional set-up and helping us compete for the honours in the years to come.”

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