Half-backs Jack Carty, John Cooney and Caolin Blade have become the latest players to sign new contract extensions with Connacht Rugby and the IRFU.
The Connacht-born duo of Jack Carty and Caolin Blade have put pen to paper on new two-year deals that will see them play at the Sportsground until at least the summer of 2017, while John Cooney, who played at Connacht this season on-loan from Leinster, has been signed on a permanent one-year contract for next season.
22-year-old local talent Carty graduated from the Connacht Academy at the end of last season after making his first professional start against Leinster at the Sportsground in January 2014.
Since then, the Athlone native, who played his club rugby with Buccaneers, has started 16 games in the pivotal number 10 jersey, bringing to 24 his total number of senior appearances for Connacht.
Another graduate of the Connacht Academy, scrum half Blade will step up to the senior squad under Pat Lam next season. The Monivea man, who has represented Ireland at Under-18 and U19 level, was recruited by Nigel Carolan in 2013.
The 20-year-old, who made his professional debut at the end of the 2013/14 season coming off the bench away to the Ospreys, now has seven senior caps to his name.
Blade’s first start in the number 9 shirt was in the province’s 29-27 win away to Bayonne in the pool stages of the European Challenge Cup where he was the centre of much deserved praise for his brace of tries.
Scrum half Cooney, who was brought to Connacht on an initial loan deal from Leinster for the 2014/15 season, has opted to sign on officially with the province for 2015/16. The former Gonzaga College schoolboy, who has played for Ireland U-18s, U-20s and Emerging Ireland, played 27 times for his native Leinster before coming to Galway.
While unable to register for Connacht in this season’s Challenge Cup, 24-year-old Cooney did play five times for the westerners in the GUINNESS PRO12, starting against Ulster at Kingspan Stadium and scoring his first try in a Connacht shirt in the side’s 43-3 win over Zebre last November.
Commenting on the latest deals, Connacht CEO Willie Ruane said: “We’re delighted to have secured these three players for the future. The fact that Jack, John and Caolin are all Irish-born half-backs under the age of 24 is a huge sign of the young talent and huge potential we have here at Connacht.
“With Jack and Caolin, we have young indigenous players who have come right through the Connacht underage system from club into the Academy and then the senior team where they have already been fast tracked to gain invaluable game time at the top level. Their progress as professional athletes is there for us all to see and it’s very exciting.”
Head coach Pat Lam added: “Again we’re very pleased to be able to announce that these guys will continue to play for Connacht. Half-back is an area that is pivotal to any team and with Kieran Marmion likely to be with Ireland more and more over the coming months, it was vital that we had plans in place to ensure we have a squad comprising of four quality scrum halves.
“Caolin is a very exciting prospect whose talents were on show in abundance away to Bayonne in December.
“We’re also very pleased that John Cooney has enjoyed his loan period with us this season and sees an opportunity here with us to further his own game and career. I have no doubt that he will continue to push hard for game time in what is a very competitive position in our squad.
“Jack is making big progress in his development. The huge amount of game-time for a young out-half is allowing him to learn and develop. All world class 10s need a starting point and I believe that over the coming years, both the province and Jack will continue to see huge growth in his ability as a skilled play-maker.”