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AIB Club International: Meet The Ireland Squad

AIB Club International: Meet The Ireland Squad

IrishRugby.ie profiles the players who will go to battle for Ireland in tonight’s AIB Club International against Scotland at Donnybrook (kick-off 7.35pm).

15 – DAVID MCKECHNIE (GREYSTONES)

The third top try scorer in the history of the AIB League. McKechnie, who played for Leinster ‘A’ last season, scored his 50th AIB League try last month when helping Greystones beat Terenure College 18-16.

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Strong under the high ball and a quality finisher, he will have a vital presence as ‘Stones hope to avoid relegation from Division One over the next few weeks. They have must-win games at home to UCD and UL Bohemians.

14 – CRONAN HEALY (CORK CONSTITUTION)

One of the most feared wingers in the AIB League’s top flight, the fleet-footed Healy has been in excellent form of late with three tries in three games against Lansdowne, Dungannon and Clontarf.

A son of Highfield stalwart Donal ‘Doc’ Healy, he played in the inaugural AIB Club International against Scotland in March 2006 and was also part of last season’s squad. He recently surpassed the Cork Con record of his coach Brian Walsh by scoring his 34th try in AIB League and Cup competitions.

13 – GREG STAFFORD (LANSDOWNE)

A former Ireland Schools, Under-19 and Under-21 international, this will be Stafford’s first involvement in an AIB Club International.

A strong-running centre with bags of skill, he turned 24 earlier this month. Stafford, who has an unfortunate nickname of ‘Injured’, stands at 6ft 1in, weighs in at over 15 stone and can also slot in at out-half.

12 – ERIC MOLONEY (DOLPHIN)

A steadying presence at number 12, Moloney is a good distibutor, a strong tackler and no mean try scorer. The 5ft 8in student has been capped previously by Ireland at Youths, Under-19 and Colleges level.

The former UCC utility back has had a big role to play this season in helping Dolphin stay in the play-off picture in AIB League Division One. He played alongside current Ireland international Rob Kearney in the Irish Under-19 World Cup team of 2005.

11 – MAX RANTZ-MCDONALD (CLONTARF)

Now a regular try scorer in the AIB League, Rantz-McDonald boasts bags of pace and is another AIB Club International debutant. The former Mount Temple pupil can also play in the centre. His tries this season have included efforts against St. Mary’s College (2), Dolphin and De La Salle Palmerston (2).

The 22-year-old DCU student got ‘one up’ on his fellow winger Healy by outpacing him for an early try at Castle Avenue last weekend but Cork Con ran out 36-7 winners over ‘Tarf.

10 – BARRY KEESHAN (DOLPHIN)

A fine goal-kicker and runner of a back-line, Keeshan was the first player to chalk up more than 100 points in AIB League Division One this season. He kicked eight points in Dolphin’s league win at UCD last weekend, taking his tally for the campaign to 115 points.

The former UCC and Cork Constitution clubman has represented Munster at Schools, Under-21 and ‘A’ level and have been capped by the Ireland Under-19s and Under-21s. He came on as a replacement for the Ireland Club International XV in their win over English Counties last term.

9 – RUAIRI CUSHION (OLD BELVEDERE)

A pacy scrum half who loves to break off rucks and scrums, Cushion has thrived at Old Belvedere in a half-back partnership with AIB League veteran Richie Murphy.

Reads the game very well and was central to ‘Belvo’s successful promotion bid in Division Two last season. Cushion is following in the footsteps of Fiach O’Loughlin (Shannon) as the Ireland Club team’s starting number 9.

1 – MARTIN GATELY (HIGHFIELD)

Having bedded himself into the Highfield first team, the powerfully-built Gately has seen off some vaunted opponents this season in the scrum, including Munster’s Federico Pucciariello and Tony Buckley who were lining out for Old Crescent and Shannon respectively.

The 22-year-old is a product of the Cork club’s underage system. He attended PBC and is currently in the final year of a finance degree at UCC.

2 – DAMIEN VARLEY (GARRYOWEN)

Varley, an engineering graduate from the University of Limerick, is a dynamic and attack-minded hooker who was part of Ireland’s 2007 AIB Club International squad.

He made two appearances as a replacement for Munster in the Celtic League two years ago. His 73rd-minute try helped Garryowen to victory in last season’s Division One final, completing an AIB League and Cup double for the club.

3 – SIMON SHAWE (BALLYMENA)

A key operator in the Ballymena pack, Shawe is a strong scrummager who relishes stretching his legs in the loose. A member of Ireland’s 2006 and 2007 AIB Club International squads, he was selected for Ulster ‘A’ earlier this season.

The former Belfast Harlequins clubman has been amongst the tries this season, including an effort against St. Mary’s College before Christmas.

4 – ALAN MAHER (LANSDOWNE) (capt)

Having played in every Club International match since 2006, Maher is ideally placed to captain this season’s Ireland team. The 6ft 5in Galwayman, an accountant by profession, previously played for Corinthians and Dublin University before joining Lansdowne.

He is the second Lansdowne player to captain an Irish side at international level since Con Murphy. Liam Toland captained an Irish development side against Western Samoa a few years back.

The 26-year-old Maher was capped previously by Ireland at Schools and Under-19 level and was on a development contract with Connacht for two seasons.

5 – SHANE O’CONNOR (CORK CONSTITUTION)

The 24-year-old O’Connor is an athletic second row who has played three times previously for Munster in the Celtic and Magners Leagues. An excellent lineout jumper and competitor at the breakdown, he has become a regular for Constitution in the AIB League’s top flight.

The former CBC pupil started for Ireland in the 2004 Under-21 World Cup final, in a pack that included current senior international Jamie Heaslip.

6 – SIMON CRAWFORD (CLONTARF)

The current Clontarf captain, Crawford is a powerful ball carrier and slick lineout operator. He made his Leinster senior debut against the Dragons in February 2004 and has been a regular in the province’s ‘A’ squad in recent seasons.

The 25-year-old originally made a name for himself at UCD. His consistent performances in the students’ second row saw him named in 2004/05 AIB League Team of the Year. He came on as a replacement in the Ireland Club team’s win over the English Counties last season.

7 – JOHN ED O’CONNOR (UL BOHEMIANS)

A real firebrand flanker, O’Connor is a tough-tackling forward who has starred for UL Bohemians during the first half of the AIB League season. Hailing from Boherlahan in Cashel, this will be the 26-year-old’s first outing in an AIB Club International.

He scored a late try in Bohs’ 19-6 win over Lansdowne earlier this season and has helped Bohs boast the best defensive record in Division One this season.

8 – HUGH HOGAN (ST. MARY’S COLLEGE)

Another AIB Club International newcomer, Hogan has put in some stellar performances for St. Mary’s College this season. The former Dublin University captain’s eye-catching run in the Mary’s side has seen the Dubliners remain competitive in Division One and reach the AIB Cup quarter-finals.

A student at Griffth College, he was a try scorer in the Irish Colleges’ big win over the UK Combined Services Under-23 team at the start of the month.

16 – DES MURRAY (CORK CONSTITUTION)

Battling with Denis Fogarty and Robert Quinn for the Cork Constitution number 2 jersey, Murray has continued to improve his front row skills in recent seasons.

A confident lineout performer with deceptive pace, he was a try scorer in Constitution’s league win over Terenure College before Christmas. Was part of the Con side that won the inaugural AIB Cup back in 2006.

17 – ROB SWEENEY (ST. MARY’S COLLEGE)

A rampaging runner in the loose and a strong presence in the scrum, this is Sweeney’s first involvement in the Ireland Club International squad since he was used as a replacement in the 2006 win over Scotland.

Nicknamed ‘Chops’, Sweeney played previously for Clontarf. He is lining out on the tighthead side of the St. Mary’s scrum this season, alongside his brother Richie, the former Ireland Under-20 hooker who is notably nicknamed ‘Chips’.

18 – MERLE O’CONNELL (CORK CONSTITUTION)

Equally comfortable in the second row or back row, O’Connell is Cork Constitution’s captain this season and is doing a fine job with the club currently top of AIB League Division One.

O’Connell, a former dual status player with Con and Crosshaven, starred during the first half of Ireland’s win over the English Counties last season and will hope to play an impact role against Scotland.

19 – PETER MALONE (GARRYOWEN)

A cornerstone of the Garryowen pack, Malone is a very experienced AIB League campaigner having captained the Limerick club for three seasons. The Bruff native is a tough-tackling back rower whose durability really stands to him.

The 27-year-old won an All-Ireland Under-20 title with Bruff before moving to Garryowen in 2001. The former Ireland Under-19 and Under-21 international also skippered the Ireland Club team against Scotland at Boroughmuir RFC last season.

20 – SAM CRONIN (UCC)

Cork-born Cronin’s consistent displays this season have helped a young UCC side maintain their challenge for top honours in AIB League Division Two.

The 21-year-old scrum half, a newcomer to the AIB Club International scene, has struck up a brilliant half-back partnership with Gavin Dunne. He was capped by the Irish Universities last season, during which time he helped the UCC Under-20s win the All-Ireland crown amongst other titles.

21 – ALAN KINGSLEY (GARRYOWEN)

A talented half-back who can slot in at number 9 or 10, Kingsley has made a success of his move from his native Portlaoise to AIB League heavyweights Garryowen. He linked up with the Garryowen Academy in 2006 after playing for Portlaoise from Under-10 level onwards.

A qualified cabinet maker, Kingsley played his part in Garryowen’s massively successful 2006/07 season. This term, he has stepped into the boots of Eoghan Hickey, linking up well with Gerry Hurley at half-back, and is set for his first AIB Club International game.

22 – ANDREW FINN (SHANNON)

An accomplished finisher and well-travelled AIB League player, the strong-running Finn has played for Sunday’s Well, Dolphin, Garryowen and Shannon.

Used as a full-back and winger by Shannon, he was part of the Ireland team that finished as runners-up at the 2004 Under-21 World Cup and was on the bench for Ireland’s two Club Internationals last season.

Interestingly, his brother George captains Shannon’s Division One rivals Dolphin while his other brother Colman regularly lines out for their Limerick neighbours UL Bohemians.