Richie Murphy’s Ireland Under-20s have reasons to be optimistic ahead of Six Nations Championship

Formidable squad will be captained by UCD’s Gus McCarthy who led Blackrock to the Leinster Schools Senior Cup title last season

Ireland head coach Richie Murphy named three survivors from last season’s Grand Slam-winning team, Ballymena’s James NcNabney, and UCD duo Conor O’Tighearnaigh and Diarmuid Managan in a 32-man squad for the upcoming Under-20 Six Nations Championship.

A further four players, Sam Prendergast (outhalf), younger brother of Connacht’s Cian, Charlie Irvine (secondrow), Harry West (outhalf) and George Hadden (prop) featured in a U-20 Summer Series tournament in Italy last June.

Hooker Gus McCarthy, who captained Blackrock to the Leinster Schools Senior Cup title last season, will lead the Irish side that begins its campaign in Colwyn Bay on Friday, February 3rd. Aaron Dundon joins Murphy’s coaching team as scrum and contact coach, while Mark Sexton (backs and attack) and Willie Faloon reprise their roles from last year.

Danny and Jacob Sheahan are nephews of former Munster and Ireland hooker, Frankie, Evan O’Connell is a nephew of Ireland forwards’ coach, Paul, Paddy McCarthy is the younger brother of Leinster and Ireland secondrow Joe, while John Devine is a younger brother to last year’s Grand Slam-winning scrumhalf, Matthew. Garryowen’s Jack Oliver is the son of former Scottish scrumhalf, Greg.


Flanker Liam Molony, hooker Matthew Victory, hooker Gus Harrington, wing Josh Costello, prop Cameron Doak, younger brother of Nathan, and scrumhalf Andrew O’Mahony are all nursing injuries but depending on circumstances may play a part later in the tournament.

The Irish 20s will also compete in the World Junior Championship – it resumes for the first time since the Covid pandemic struck – which takes place in Cape Town in June, where they will face England, Fiji and Australia in pool matches.

Murphy offered an overview of the squad and why he plumped for McCarthy to lead it.

“In general, we are really happy, the squad as a whole is probably a little further down the track than it was last year. There are guys who would make the 23 last year and the year before who wouldn’t make it this year.

“In certain positions it’s the other way around, it’s just the luck of the draw. For instance, we have four secondrows who are all over 6ft6in, all very good rugby players. Gus [McCarthy] builds good relationships with people and leads by example.

“When we go looking for a good example of a ball carrier or a clean-out, Gus seems to just pop his head up all the time. He had enough to say within the group but doesn’t over-talk.”

Murphy added that McCarthy dealt with the expectation of leading one of the best Blackrock teams of all time to a cup success and that “he just seems to be the right fit for us”.

Waterford-born, La Rochelle-based teenager Ike Anagu has made the squad and will fight for one of the wing positions, although he can also play centre and fullback.

Murphy explained: “I got contacted by a guy I know who made us aware of Ike. We found out his history of being born and living in Waterford until [he was] seven, before he went over to South Africa and then ended up at La Rochelle.

“We brought him over to have a look and try get him into the squad. He’s fitted in really well; he’s a very pleasant and hard-working young man. From a rugby point of view, he, like a number of the other lads, they are only 19 years of age, and you can’t forget that.

“When you see the size of them it makes you feel like you’re looking at proper full internationals, but they are U-20s. He has a lot to learn but is very hungry. He’s getting that information and that help through our coaches and the other players as well.”

The Irish squad have enjoyed a series of camps at the High Performance Centre (HPC) while also playing matches against Italy and Munster and Leinster Development XVs. They have a three-day camp in Belfast next week and will play a training game against the Ulster senior side.

There is no shortage of footballing ability, size and talent with players like Hugh Cooney, Sam Prendergast, Rory Telfer, Hugh Gavin, Paddy McCarthy, Gus McCarthy and Ruadhán Quinn to highlight several of many capable of adding to the experience and quality of those returning from last year.

Ireland U20s Squad (Forwards): G Morris (Lansdowne/Leinster), G Hadden (Clontarf/Leinster), G McCarthy (UCD/Leinster, capt), C Henchy (DUFC/Munster), D Sheahan (UCC/Munster), R Foxe (Leinster/Old Belvedere), F Barrett (Corinthians/Connacht), P McCarthy (DUFC/Leinster), Conor O’Tighearnaigh (UCD/Leinster), C Irvine (QUB/Ulster), E O’Connell (UL Bohemian/Munster), J Hopes (QUB/Ulster), J Sheahan (UCC/Munster), D Mangan (UCD/Leinster), R Quinn (Old Crescent/Munster), J McNabney (Ballymena/Ulster), B Gleeson (Garryowen/Munster). Backs: J Oliver (Garryowen/Munster), Ó Cawley (Naas/Leinster), F Gunne (Terenure/Leinster), S Prendergast (Lansdowne/Leinster), M Lynch (DUFC/Leinster), H West (Buccaneers/Connacht), S Berman (DUFC/Leinster), H Gavin (Galwegians/Connacht), H Cooney (Clontarf/Leinster), J Devine (Corinthians/Connacht), I Anagu (La Rochelle/IQ Rugby), J Nicholson (UCD/Leinster), R Telfer (QUB/Ulster), H McErlean (Terenure/Leinster), N Sheridan (Clontarf/Leinster).

Ireland U20 Fixtures:

Friday, February 3rd: Wales v Ireland, Colwyn Bay (7.0, Virgin Media)

Friday, February 10th: Ireland v France, Musgrave Park (8.0, RTÉ)

Friday, February 24th: Italy v Ireland, Stadio Comunale di Monigo (7.15, RTÉ)

Friday, March 10th: Scotland v Ireland, Scotstoun Stadium (7.15pm, RTÉ)

Sunday, March 19th: Ireland v England, Musgrave Park (5.0, Virgin Media).

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer