Connacht Rugby and the IRFU have announced two-year contract extensions for two of the province’s brightest stars, Darragh Leader and Denis Buckley.
Galway-born Darragh Leader and Denis Buckley from Roscommon are both graduates of the Connacht Academy and have worked their way up to regular starters in the westerners’ senior team.
Indeed, both players are in a group of only five squad members to have played in all ten games of the season to date, the duo each starting in all but two clashes.
The 21-year-old Leader, from Castlegar in Co. Galway, was this month included in Joe Schmidt’s 37-man Ireland training squad for the first time. Although uncapped, the full-back was named as 24th man in the Test match with Georgia and undoubtedly earned invaluable experience in the international set-up at a young age.
Leader has been starting for Connacht at full-back this season but has also shown his versatility by switching to centre at different times. His goal-kicking abilities, especially from long range, have also been called upon.
He earned his first Connacht cap in October 2012 when he started in the number 15 jersey against the Ospreys in Swansea. Having attended St. Joseph’s College, Galway, Leader played all his club rugby with Galwegians RFC and went on to represent Ireland at Under-19 and Under-20 level.
Front rower Buckley (pictured below) will join Leader in staying at Connacht until at least the summer of 2017. The 24-year-old made his senior debut in September 2011 in the province’s 11-9 win away to Benetton Treviso.
The loosehead prop, who played his club rugby with Creggs RFC, has since notched up 58 appearances in the Connacht jersey.
Buckley has made a big impact from the front of a powerful pack this season and his impressive work-rate was rewarded with a man-of-the-match medal in the opening round of the PRO12 as well as the Connacht Player of the Month award for September.
Commenting on the latest deals, Connacht CEO Willie Ruane said: “The biggest part of our vision at Connacht Rugby is growing the game in the province from grassroots right up to the Ireland team.
“It’s fantastic that these two local lads who have played their rugby in the province and come through our Academy system will remain an integral part of our continued progress going forward, including our role in providing players for the international team.
“Our squad recruitment and retention programme is ongoing and on the back of three player contracts announced this week we look forward to confirming more signings in the coming weeks and months.”
Connacht head coach Pat Lam added: “From a rugby perspective, these contract extensions are a huge boost to the club. Both Darragh and Denis are key members of the senior squad here at Connacht and both have the potential to play at the highest level of the game.
“Darragh’s development was rewarded this month with a place in the Ireland squad and I have no doubt that if Denis continues working on his development here that he will reach his goals.
“When we go out to the clubs and schools around the province, it is the local guys like Denis, Jack Carty, Eoin McKeon and John Muldoon that the young children see as their heroes. They’ve come through Connacht’s systems and age grade structures and are now playing week in, week out for their home province.
“These kids can then see Robbie Henshaw and Darragh involved with Ireland and that helps us to grow the game in the region which is one of our main responsibilities at Connacht Rugby.”