As the build-up to our return to rugby continues, we’re introducing you to all the new players who have signed for Connacht in the summer of 2020.
 
Today we speak to out-half Conor Dean, who has graduated from the Academy with one pro appearance already under his belt.
 

How have your first few weeks been back at The Sportsground, what has it been like?

It has been really good, it was weird the first few weeks with all the protocols in place. The first weeks were good in small groups and now we are back into full team sessions and it is getting very competitive with the games coming up.

Was it tough training during quarantine and how did you find the whole experience being at home?

I found it okay as the guys split up the gym equipment, there were no excuses to come back in bad shape and the weather helped when it came to going outside and getting the running in. I spent quarantine back in Dublin and my family joined in at times during my training sessions which were good fun. My dad done his back in five weeks in so I got the blame for that!

What would you say your overall experience was like in the Connacht Rugby academy?

Nigel was head coach of the Irish U20’s when I was there, so he was a familiar face when I arrived and would have been a good person to get a link with. While in the Academy I was integrated into the Senior team quite a bit. The lads treat everyone the same whether you are sub-academy or academy, it was a great environment and was very welcoming.

Are there any coaches in the academy that helped you with your development up until this point?

Mossy Lawler was a huge influence for me, he took most of the sessions and his attention to detail was second to none. His details on the smallest things were immense.

I know rugby was a big part of your family growing up, was your dad a big influence on getting you to play or did you naturally fall into it after seeing him play?

He was pretty relaxed and didn’t push me to play. I went to Blackrock, all we did growing up was play with a rugby ball.

You are originally from Dublin, what has the whole experience been like in the West of Ireland since you moved?

It has been a great experience, it is so different here. It is a lot more community based since it is a smaller place. The atmosphere on match week in town is buzzing and it has been a great change.

How important is it that the pathway is there for players to continue to come up through the Academy into the first team?

It is huge, this year six of us graduated from the Academy to the Pro team and there are loads more coming through pushing us. It is an unbelievable system in place and hopefully, we can keep generating more players coming through that system.

Have you learned a lot from other players like Conor and Jack?

They have both been very helpful, with Jack in the World Cup last year, the experience he brought back was incredible. Conor had a brilliant season last year, they have both been able to give me invaluable advice. They are probably sick of me asking them questions at this stage. They would be very good to review games and clips for me and help me out where they can.

How are you preparing yourself for the games in August and going forward for the season?

I am taking it day by day, each session is quite intense these days. I am trying to hopefully stay injury-free and put my best foot forward in training every day.

What would you like to achieve in your first season with Connacht rugby?

Eventually, I want to nail down a starting place. But you can’t look too far forward, you have to train as best as you each week and give the coaches a headache when it comes to selecting the team.

When you play in August there will be no supporters at the games, do you think it will be difficult playing in an empty stadium?

We have touched on it in our sessions and discussed how we will bring our own intensity. There is no extra support or extra noise, it will be different. Once we get into the game we will just get our job done, the team energy will be very important.

What is an interesting fact about you that the Connacht supporters would not know?

It would be my love for the game of golf. If I wasn’t playing rugby I would be on the golf course.

Connacht Rugby are delighted to confirm that six players have signed professional contracts with the province having come through the Connacht Academy.
 
Niall Murray, Colm Reilly, Seán Masterson, Conor Dean, Jordan Duggan and Peter Sullivan will all be integrated into the professional squad ahead of the new season.
 
Niall Murray has come through the Connacht grassroots system having played for Buccaneers RFC. The lock made his professional debut in December – coming off the bench in the victory over Gloucester in the Heineken Champions Cup – before his first start against Leinster during the Christmas interpros. Murray was also a member of the Ireland U20s squad for the 2019 Six Nations and World Championships.
 
Colm Reilly is another product of the Connacht clubs. The scrum-half has represented Ballinasloe RFC and won a Top Oil Connacht Senior Schools Cup with Garbally College. He also featured for the Ireland U20s team of 2019, scoring the crucial Grand Slam-winning try in the final game away to Wales.
 
Like Murray, Seán Masterson also has experience in the professional squad. The back-rower made his debut in the Guinness PRO14 victory over Treviso, replacing his brother Eoghan. The 22-year-old then featured during the Christmas interpros, coming off the bench against Leinster.
 
Out-half Conor Dean has already been capped for Connacht, starting in Thomond Park against Munster in the final game of the 2018/19 Guinness PRO14 regular season. He also impressed for the Connacht Eagles in the most recent Celtic Cup campaign when the squad won 5 of their 7 games.
 
Prop Jordan Duggan has been capped at Ireland U19 and U20 level, and played for Ireland at the U20 World Championship which also featured Connacht teammates Paul Boyle, Seán Masterson, Oisin Dowling and Conor Dean.
 
Peter Sullivan joined the Connacht Academy last season having impressed in the Energia All-Ireland League. The winger also stood out for the Connacht Eagles in the 2019/20 Celtic Cup campaign.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says today’s announcement confirms the belief the coaching staff have in the Connacht Academy system.
 
“We are delighted to confirm today’s news as we build for the future. I am a firm believer that a club’s lifeline is its Academy structure, and this exciting group of young players proves that the Connacht Academy is extremely healthy, and will continue to have a positive impact on our squad going forward”.
 
I would like to say congratulations to the six men named, as well as a special thank you to all the people who have helped them get to their point of their careers – particularly the Academy department led by Eric Elwood, their respective clubs and schools, and most importantly their family and friends”.

 
Connacht Academy Manager Eric Elwood says today is a proud day for the players.
 
“I would like to congratulate the six players on their first professional contracts and joining up with the pro squad for next season. It has been a pleasure to watch the players develop and grow over the years and we wish them well on the next step of their journey in their rugby careers.
 
It’s particularly pleasing to see two more local lads come through the grassroots programme, which is a testament to the great work being done at all levels at Connacht Rugby.”

Connacht Academy out-half Conor Dean is set to make his debut for the province in the Guinness PRO14 clash with Munster in Thomond Park on Saturday (Kick off 7:35pm). 21 year old Dean is in his first year in the Academy and becomes the seventh player from Connacht’s Academy to be handed a start this season by Head Coach Andy Friend.
 
Dean will form a half back partnership with Irish international scrum half Kieran Marmion. The back line has further international experience with the midfield partnership of Bundee Aki and former Ireland 7s Captain Tom Daly.
 
In the back three, Stephen Fitzgerald returns to Thomond Park to face his former team mates as he is named on the wing, with Niyi Adeolokun on the opposite wing and the experienced Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.
 
Up front, there is good news for Connacht, as tighthead Finlay Bealham has returned from a hand injury to take his place alongside hooker Tom McCartney and Ballinrobe man Matthew Burke at loosehead.
 
In the second row, James Cannon starts alongside Joe Maksymiw, while in the back row Captain Jarrad Butler is named at openside, with Eoin McKeon at blindside and another former Munster man Robin Copeland at number 8.
 
With Connacht already qualified for a PRO14 Quarter Final against Ulster next weekend, Head Coach Andy Friend says there is still much to play for: “Munster are an outstanding side. We saw that when we played them at home earlier in the season and they have been even better since. There is still a huge incentive for our players. We know that these interpro fixtures always bring out the best in our boys and we know that going to Thomond Park is a massive challenge”.
 
“With a quarter final next weekend, we have huge competition in the squad and that is exactly what we need at this stage of the season. This is a big opportunity for everyone involved”, Friend added.
 
 
Kick-off 7:35pm:
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Tom Daly, Stephen Fitzgerald, Conor Dean, Kieran Marmion, (1-8) Matthew Burke, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, James Cannon, Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Robin Copleand.
Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Eoghan Masterson, Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Eoin Griffin, Darragh Leader.
 

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