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Nurturing of self-belief a crucial factor in Sheehan’s rise to prominence

Becoming one of the world’s best hookers wasn’t a straightforward affair and the Leinster man is thankful to those who helped in the transformation

From there to here isn’t always as straightforward as it seems.

For Dan Sheehan, now included among the best hookers in world rugby, looking back he could be forgiven for believing in a surreal aspect to how his career developed and finally blossomed.

The last two or three years since his first Ireland cap in November 2021 are as he had visualised and worked out in line with his ambitions and what the Leinster and Ireland coaches were telling him.

The previous years reaching back to his teens were fraught with a lack of self-belief and in school it was rugby that finally took over from swimming, golf, badminton and football because, well, it was Clongowes.


“I am not surprised by the last three or probably two years but before that I probably would have been,” says Sheehan. “It is probably that I lacked confidence as a teenager, probably saw myself as a decent club player.”

Sheehan feels the way he now sees himself is the biggest improvement he has made in realising his talent as a player. The physical development, the natural ability, his dynamic way of playing hooker and his mounting try count with Ireland have all played their part. But backing himself has allowed a lot of other good things to happen.

Self-belief as a permissive tool for developing in rugby is a subject on which he could write the book.

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“Multiple ways,” he says is how it changed him.

“Through parents, through family friends, through coaches that I have had who pulled me aside and said ‘I think you are better than what you think you are . . .’ and ‘you have the potential if you really wanted to go get it . . .’ So that’s probably been the biggest improvement in my game, my mindset, how I perceive myself.”

That came about, not by self-realisation, but largely through Stuart Lancaster, who left Leinster at the end of last season to take over as head coach in Top 14 club Racing ‘92.

“Stuart Lancaster sat me down when I was in the academy and started off like ‘I think you can go the whole way’, which, at the time, I was uncapped and just going through training at Leinster and playing AIL on Saturdays, which I was happy doing, only too happy to do,” he says.

“So, I sat down after that and I just thought, ‘right, how do I get there’. So that was one thing that stands out in my mind. My old man would push me hard to be the best version of myself which, well he didn’t push me much, he just reminded me that I could probably go to the next level.”

The 6ft 3in 25-year-old currently leads the Six Nations scoring with three tries from two games. Sheehan is at the next level now. It was a critical change of self-perception and encouragement that got him from there to here.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times