Connacht and the IRFU have announced that Academy players Conor McKeon, Cormac Brennan and Pat O’Toole have all been rewarded with Connacht senior contracts for next season.
23-year-old Conor McKeon earns his promotion to the senior squad after three years in the Academy. Having joined the Connacht set-up in the summer of 2014, he made his senior and PRO12 debut away to Zebre that same season. He earned another PRO12 cap from the bench last season before making the switch from out-half to scrum half.
Recently named the Academy Player of the Year, the former Ireland Under-20 international had a standout season with Ulster Bank League Division 1B champions Buccaneers.
Back-three player Cormac Brennan, who hails from Ballyvaughan in County Clare, has been rewarded with a senior contract after two seasons in the Academy. The former Cistercian College Roscrea student has played with Galwegians RFC from a young age and represented the Ireland Under-18 Schools team in 2013. A student of Law at NUIG, the 22-year-old Brennan has trained with the Connacht senior squad on a number of occasions but is yet to be capped.
Pat O’Toole will add further competition to the hooker position next season with Tom McCartney, Dave Heffernan and Shane Delahunt all vying for the number 2 shirt. The 22-year-old from Louisburgh in County Mayo started playing rugby with Westport RFC at six years of age. The former Gaelic footballer was capped at Ireland Under-19 level and completed two years in the Academy, lining out with both the Connacht Eagles and Corinthians RFC.
Commenting on the new contracts, Connacht Rugby CEO Willie Ruane said: “The talent coming through from our underage and Academy set-up is vital for the future success of Connacht Rugby. It is really exciting for us to have three more young players coming through from the Academy into the senior squad.
“Conor, Cormac and Pat have shown that they have the desire and potential to succeed in a professional set up and we believe they have big futures in the game and with Connacht.”
Former Connacht Academy Manager and now backs coach for the new season, Nigel Carolan, added: “I’m delighted for all three players who will take the step in to the professional squad next season. They make it 38 the number of graduates from the programme over the years which is something we’re really proud of.
“Conor has shown his sheer determination and drive to succeed by making the positional move from out-half to scrumhalf. He refused to give up on his dream of professional rugby and I’m delighted he has got his opportunity.
“Cormac came under our radar when he started playing with Galwegians RFC at underage level. He returned to the province as part of the IRFU and Connacht Rugby’s succession plan and the move has paid off thanks to his own commitment and determination to continuously develop.
“Pat has come right through our pathway from U-15 level when he was part of our regional development squad in Westport. He is the epitome of our vision of ‘Grassroots to Green Shirts’ and his move in to the senior squad will provide inspiration for so many of our young lads looking to succeed. I’m really looking forward to working with these players at the next stage of their career.”