As the new season fast approaches, Shannon RFC are looking ahead with a renewed degree of optimism under the tutelage of their new player-coach Stephen Keogh and his assistant Eoin Cahill.
Shannon’s new coaching regime have been putting their squad through their pre-season training routine over the last number of weeks.
With the Limerick club’s senior squad remaining largely intact from last season, they have bolstered their ranks with a number of astute signings during the summer.
As well as Stephen Keogh, who is a highly regarded back rower, Shannon have added Argentinian prop Gonzalo Escobar, second rows Ken Hanley and Eoin Sheriff, centre Troy Smith and winger Aaron Spring.
Escobar is currently training with Munster. He came to Limerick towards the end of last season and joined up with Shannon, but was unable to play in the Ulster Bank League campaign.
Although his English is limited, he has fitted in extremely well with the Shannon squad and was very keen to sign for the club.
Ken Hanley, who is 22, made a somewhat shorter journey from Greenfields to join Shannon where he was a regular member of the Young Munster first team for the last couple of seasons.
The former Crescent Comprehensive player was involved in several Munster underage sides from Under-18 Schools through to the Under-20s.
The name Sheriff in Shannon evokes memories of a towering second row figure that was part of the four in-a-row All-Ireland League-winning side of the 1990s – but back then the name was Rory Sheriff.
This season Shannon will welcome another of the clan into their fold with the arrival of younger brother Eoin who joins from Dublin club Lansdowne.
A highly promising player, the Gorey native has represented Ireland at Youths, Schools and Under-20 level, and was part of the Leinster Academy for the last number of years.
Troy Smith joins Shannon having spent the last two seasons with Cork outfit Midleton and while there the New Zealander built a considerable reputation as a centre of outstanding ability.
A member of the Munster Academy, Smith came to Ireland two seasons ago with high aspirations of someday lining out for the Munster senior side and his progress thus far would suggest that that goal is imminent.
Aaron Spring heads south from his native Sligo with an equally impressive record at representative level.
This versatile player, who is just 19, was part of Connacht’s Academy structure before his move to Limerick. He has also played with the Irish Schools and Youth squads, and was capped at Under-20 level last season.
Throughout his career to date Spring has played in a variety of positions, including prop and second row, and was indeed capped internationally as a back rower. However, his most natural position is as a winger and it is there that he hopes to make an impact with his new side.
Along with his new signings, Shannon player-coach Keogh welcomes the return of four-time All-Ireland League winner Padraic O’Brien to the squad after the lock took a sabbatical last season.
The return to the training pitch of out-half Tadhg Bennett, who missed a substantial part of last season through injury, is another welcome boost.
Keogh is very happy with the pre-season progress of the squad so far and is very much looking forward to the new season,
“It’s been a very good summer for us so far. The lads are training well and the addition of the new guys has had a great impact on the general functionality of the squad,” he said.
“Our aim is to foster a healthy competition for places in the starting line-up from week to week, and with our new additions myself and the management team will be hoping for some positive selection headaches.”
He added: “There’s only so much pre-season training you can do, and while we are still over three weeks away from the official start of the season the lads are champing at the bit to get into competitive action.”
Along with a new playing impetus, Keogh can also rely on the advice from a management team that is teeming with experience.
Pat Murray and Niall Cowhey will provide an invaluable back-up service to Keogh and assistant coach Eoin Cahill, and their combined wealth of experience will no doubt be called upon as the season progress.
Shannon open their season with a challenge game against Garryowen on Sunday, August 14 in Shanagolden, County Limerick to commemorate the official opening of Estuary RFC’s new pitch. The match will kick off at 4pm.