Forwards Dave Heffernan, Daniel Qualter, JP Cooney and versatile back Shane O’Leary have become the latest players to sign new one-year contract extensions with Connacht Rugby and the IRFU.
Their signatures bring to 18 the number of current players who have committed their futures to the province for next season.
Mayo-born Dave Heffernan is a graduate of the Connacht Academy and was last week named in the Emerging Ireland squad for the upcoming Tbilisi Cup having played internationally at Under-20 level.
The former back rower, who switched to hooker less than two years ago, made his senior debut for Connacht in March 2012 against the Scarlets. The 24-year-old has since played 32 times for his home province.
Heffernan’s Buccaneers club-mate and fellow Academy graduate, Daniel Qualter, has also put pen to paper on a new deal with Connacht. The Athlone-born lock has represented Ireland at Under-18, Youth Schools, Under-19 and Under-20 level and with competition at lock very high this season, the 23-year-old made three appearances in the European Challenge Cup this season.
25-year-old Connacht prop JP Cooney will continue his progression with the westerners next season having honed his scrummaging skills under outgoing assistant coach Dan McFarland since his arrival to the province in 2012. The Garryowen clubman made his 20th appearance for Connacht last Sunday at Kingsholm and will continue to push Denis Buckley next season for the number 1 jersey.
Meanwhile, the backs have been boosted by the extension of Shane O’Leary’s stay. The Munster man, who can play at centre or out-half, signed from FC Grenoble last summer and made a notable impact on the field this season, scoring tries at Thomond Park and away to Zebre in two of his five appearances.
Commenting on the latest deals, Connacht CEO Willie Ruane said: “The retention of our young indigenous players such as Dave and Danny is very important for the future of Connacht Rugby.
“It is also very pleasing to see young JP and Shane enjoying their rugby and confident that they are in the right place to grow as players and also add to the culture we have built here.”
Head coach Pat Lam added: “We’re delighted to be confirming our updated squad for next season. Recruitment is ongoing but it’s important to hold on to young players like these who have demonstrated that they have the talent and the desire to succeed in a professional set-up.
“Dave, in particular, has had a season of huge growth and through his hard work, and the experience he’s gained in high-pressure games as a young and novice hooker, he has deservedly earned himself a place in the Emerging Ireland squad and we’re delighted for him.
“Our squad is constantly evolving but we are very pleased with the talent and the calibre of young Irish talent we have coming through the system and these four guys epitomise that.”
UPDATED CONNACHT SQUAD – 2015/16 SEASON:
Props: Ronan Loughney, Denis Buckley, Rodney Ah You, Nathan White, JP Cooney, Finlay Bealham
Hookers: Tom McCartney, Jason Harris-Wright, Dave Heffernan
Second Rows: Aly Muldowney, Quinn Roux, Andrew Browne, Daniel Qualter, Ultan Dillane
Back Rowers: Jake Heenan, Eoin McKeon, John Muldoon, George Naoupu, Eoghan Masterson, Nepia Fox-Matamua
Scrum Halves: Kieran Marmion, John Cooney, Ian Porter, Caolin Blade
Out-Halves: Jack Carty, Craig Ronaldson
Centres: Robbie Henshaw, Dave McSharry, Bundee Aki, Shane O’Leary, Conor Finn
Wingers: Matt Healy, Danie Poolman, Fionn Carr, Niyi Adeolokun
Full-Backs: Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader