Connacht Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to announce that Academy players James Connolly, Shane Delahunt and Rory Parata have all been rewarded with senior contracts for next season.

Commenting on the new contracts, CEO Willie Ruane said:

“It’s fantastic to see another crop of young players graduate from the Academy through to the senior squad. It’s testament to their ability and hard work but also that of our Academy coaches and staff who are doing an outstanding job working with and developing young players of real quality.

 “Their journey epitomises the vision we have at Connacht Rugby and we believe there are plenty more young players in our system who have the potential to follow the same pathway and go on to represent Connacht and Ireland in the future.”

Head Coach Pat Lam added:

“James, Shane and Rory were all capped last season and, this year, were part of the Academy group of players that trained with us since pre-season. What impressed me most about these young men is their ambition to succeed, their willingness to learn and to work hard to improve themselves.

“The amount of young, Irish talent coming through in Connacht is very exciting. As a coach, I’m delighted to be working with these players who I believe have the ability to contribute massively to Connacht and Irish Rugby.”

Kildare man James Connolly, a dynamic back row player, was educated in Newbridge College and played with Connacht at both Under-19 and U20’s level, earning himself a nomination for ‘Player of the Year’ at both levels in successive years.

In his second season of the Academy, Connolly earned his first senior cap when Pat Lam brought a young side to play Bayonne in the South-West of France. The then 21-year-old started in the number 6 shirt in his side’s impressive win and then went on to make two more European appearances – both away to Gloucester.  This season, he was part of the team that travelled to Siberia in the Challenge Cup and last month made his PRO12 debut in the victory over Munster at Thomond Park. With six senior caps to his name, this week against Newcastle Falcons will represent his Sportsground debut.

Born in Australia to a Kiwi father and mother from Co. Cork, Rory Parata moved to Ireland at the age of nine.  The former Rockwell College schoolboy was part of the Connacht Under-19’s 2012/13 interpro winning side. In April 2013, he was selected to represent Ireland U19’s in their two internationals with England and France.

This season was a breakthrough one for the 21-year-old who featured in all three pre-season friendlies against Grenoble, Castres and Munster.  He started in the centre for the first four games of the season and has played in 8 of 11 fixtures so far. A versatile back, he moved out to the wing in the two Challenge Cup games against Enisei-STM and Brive and crossed for a try in each fixture.

21-year-old hooker Shane Delahunt made eight PRO12 appearances in just his first season in the Academy last term. He started in the front row in Connacht’s win over Munster last month to bring his tally to 13 senior caps. Hailing from Birr, Co. Offaly, Delahunt attended Kilkenny College where he captained the senior team to their first ever Leinster Senior League title in 2011. He was included in the 2014 Under-20’s 6 Nations squad and earned his first cap against Scotland U20’s.

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