JP Cooney, Shane O’Leary and Daniel Qualter have all signed on to continue with the Connacht senior squad for 2016/17, while back rower Rory Moloney has been promoted from the province’s Academy to join the senior ranks.
All three senior players featured in a number of games this season across both the GUINNESS PRO12 and the European Challenge Cup, with Cooney and O’Leary named in the matchday 23 for the recent league final against Leinster.
Prop JP Cooney (26) will continue his progression under Pat Lam and Jimmy Duffy next term having made eight appearances from the bench this season. The Garryowen clubman, who can play on both sides of the scrum, was sidelined for four months at the start of the season with a shoulder injury but made a recovery in February to contribute significantly to the front row efforts.
Athlone man Daniel Qualter played in six games this season and earned his first start away to Newcastle Falcons in the Challenge Cup. The 24-year-old, who represented Ireland at Under-18, Youth Schools, Under-19 and Under-20 level, will add more competition to the lock position for next season.
Meanwhile, the backs have been boosted by the extension of Shane O’Leary’s stay. The 23-year-old, who can play at centre or out-half, signed from FC Grenoble in 2014 and made a notable impact on the pitch this season when injuries saw him catapulted into the number 10 shirt against Ulster, Grenoble and Munster. He kicked 31 points in eight games this season of which he started four.
Head coach Lam also sees his back row options increase with the promotion of openside flanker Rory Moloney from the Academy. The 21-year-old Moloney was called up to train with the senior squad at the tail-end of the 2015/16 season.
Yet to be capped, the former Cistercian College Roscrea student played a leading role in both the interprovincial and British & Irish Cup campaigns with the Connacht Eagles side. Moloney captained the Ireland Under-19s before going on to play in the U-20 Six Nations and U-20 World Championship in both the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons. Overall he played in 13 games, starting 10, for the Ireland U-20s.
Commenting on the latest deals, Lam said: “While recruitment is ongoing, I have always said that retention is a very important part of what we do. It is vital that we 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.
“Next season we will be defending a PRO12 title and competition in the top tier of Europe for the first time in three years so squad depth and competition for places will be crucial.
“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.”
Confirmed Outgoing Players – 2015/16:
Rodney Ah You