Every day we’re shining a light on one of our newest arrivals over the summer, and help you get to know each of them before we return to the field later in the month.

Today we chat to Sean Masterson, another Academy graduate looking to take that next step after a breakthrough 2019/20 season.

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

We have been back for 6 weeks, it has been enjoyable getting back to meeting people and training with people again. I have not seen some of the lads in three months so it was great to see them again. Going into the new setup as a PRO player has been brilliant.

How did you find the last 3 months training from home?

My parents moved to Westport, before the COVID I would only be able to see them the odd weekend. During that time I stayed back there with my sister and my parents for 10 weeks, I enjoyed catching up with everyone and spending quality time them. It was great to have the training to clear my mind but by the end of quarantine it was tough because I was tired of training by myself, it is always great to have someone to push you and I was missing that.

You graduated from the Academy to the Pro Team, what would you say your overall experience was like in the Connacht Rugby academy?

I went into the sub academy after we won the PRO12 in 2016. I spent one year there and three years in the academy. I am still best friends with lads who have left, the friendships alone that I have gotten from the Academy have been unbelievable. The craic that we have had and the trips that we went on with the Eagles were the best. We were very young and used to just slag each other the whole time. We were all the same age and we were all best friends. Mossy, Ambrose, Cully, and Eric have been great coaches to learn from. They have been some of the best years of rugby that I have had, we learned a lot but it was great fun at the same time.

What coaches influenced your development during your time in the Academy?

When I played for a club team when I was younger you would go to training, have a bit of fun and play rugby. When you come into the Sub Academy you are put into the environment of a professional rugby player. The likes of Mossy and Ambrose are some of the best coaches that I have ever had. They gave me the confidence to push on and to keep learning. They gave me the confidence and hope that it is possible to become a professional rugby player and showed me the path to get there.

As our vision is Grassroot to Greenshirts, 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 massively important, around two years ago Colm De Buitlear and I coached an U17’s team. We have seen some of those lads push on to the Sub Academy and some are now in the Academy. They can see the pathway to become a professional rugby player, for young kids to see local people that play for club teams making it as professional rugby players is really inspiring and shows that it can be done.

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

There is a lot of young lads in the squad and everyone is trying to get a starting position on the team. I know some back rows have moved on from the team, there are now seven of us and younger players are coming up behind us. One of my goals is to start on the team and get regular game time in the squad and play my best every time I get to put on the jersey.

There’s a lot of competition for places in your position so I presume you’re all eager to impress ahead of the Interpros?

There is always a lot of competition in the back row but it pushes you to become better and to learn from other players. At the end of the day, it is up to the coaches on who they pick but you have to impress. You have to put your hand up and strive to do your best and hopefully, that is enough to get picked.

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.”

Caolin Blade will lead out Connacht as captain for tonight’s pre-season friendly against Oyonnax Rugby at the Stade Charles-Mathon (k/o 7.30pm Irish time).
 
The scrum-half starts the challenge game alongside half-back partner David Horwitz, with Peter Robb and Kyle Godwin paired together at centre. All-time Connacht try scorer Matt Healy is named on the wing with Niyi Adeolokun and Darragh Leader completing the back three.
 
In the pack there’s a start for Connacht Academy player Seán Masterson who is selected at blindside flanker, with Paul Boyle and Robin Copeland also in the back row. Irish international Ultan Dillane partners Joe Maksymiw in the second row, with Matthew Burke, Tom McCartney and Dominic Robertson-McCoy completing the side.
 
A squad of 30 travelled to France on Wednesday with every player expected to see game-time as preparations for the start of the season crank up a gear.
 
Connacht Rugby will have live updates of the game on our Twitter account @ConnachtRugby.
 
CONNACHT RUGBY TEAM VS OYONNAX RUGBY
(15-9): Darragh Leader, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, David Horwitz, Caolin Blade (c).

(1-8): Matthew Burke, Tom McCartney, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Joe Maksymiw, Seán Masterson, Paul Boyle, Robin Copeland.

(Replacements): Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Rory Burke, Cillian Gallagher, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler, Angus Lloyd, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly, Seán O’Brien, John Porch, Tiernan O’Halloran.

A squad of 30 players arrived in France yesterday afternoon ahead of Friday’s pre-season friendly against Oyonnax Rugby at the Stade Charles-Mathon (k/o 7.30pm Irish time / 8.30pm local time).
 
The game is Connacht’s first of the 2019/20 campaign as they step up preparations for the start of the Guinness PRO14 against Scarlets on September 28th, with a further friendly against Munster at The Sportsground the previous week.
 
New signings John Porch and Rory Burke are included in the travelling party, as are academy players Seán O’Brien and Seán Masterson.
 
Speaking after the squad’s arrival, Head Coach Andy Friend said:
 
“This game is our first opportunity to put into action what we’ve been working on since the start of pre-season training at the beginning of July. I’ve been very impressed with the squad in that time and I’m excited to see what the players can offer”.
 
“We have brought over a squad of 30 players and it is our intention to give every player a run-out and an opportunity to impress. Oyonnax are a good side so this is the ideal game for us as we get closer to the new season”.

 
Connacht Rugby Squad vs Oyonnax Rugby
 
Forwards (17): Finlay Bealham, Paul Boyle, Denis Buckley, Matthew Burke, Rory Burke, Jarrad Butler, Robin Copeland, Colby Fainga’a, Cillian Gallagher, Dave Heffernan, Tom McCartney, Ultan Dillane, Joe Maksymiw, Eoghan Masterson, Sean Masterson (acad), Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Gavin Thornbury.

Backs (13): Niyi Adeolokun, Caolin Blade, Tom Daly, Conor Fitzgerald, Kyle Godwin, Matt Healy, David Horwitz, Darragh Leader, Angus Lloyd, Seán O’Brien (acad), Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Peter Robb.

The Connacht Eagles suffered a 14 – 41 defeat at the hands of a strong London Irish outfit at Dubarry Park today.

Centre Ciaran Gaffney, who made his senior debut in the Guinness PRO12 last month, opened the scoring for the home side just before the break with sub academy outhalf Luke Carty kicking the conversion.

The outhalf wasn’t up to the tee again until the 77th minute when Sean Masterson, younger brother of senior player Eoghan, crossed for the last score of the game.

London Irish, unbeaten this season, now progress to the quarter final of the B&I Cup while the Eagles must travel to Cornwall next weekend in search of their first win in the campaign.

Connacht Eagles: 15 Josh Rowland, 14 Matthew Byrne, 13 Ciaran Gaffney, 12 Kieran Joyce, 11 Adam Leavy, 10 Luke Carty, 9 Conor McKeon, 1 Jack Dinneen, 2 Shane O’Hehir, 3 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 4 Cillian Gallagher, 5 Danny Qualter, 6 Rory Moloney, 7 Josh Pim, 8 Marc Kelly

Replacements: 16 Conor Kyne, 17 Saba Meunargia, 18 Cian Romaine, 19 Sean Masterson, 20 Stephen Kerins, 21 Morgan Codyre, 22 Joe Murphy

London Irish: 15 Tom Parton, 14 Matt Williams, 13 Ciaran Hearn, 12 Ross Neal (Johnny Williams, 65), 11 Ben Ransom, 10 Theo Brophy Clews (Jacob Atkins, 60), 9 Scott Steele, 1 Harry Elrington, 2 Todd Gleave, 3 Ollie Hoskins, 4 Jerry Sexton (Will Lloyd, 60), 5 Josh McNally, 6 Joe Trayfoot (Luke Narraway, 65), 7 Conor Gilsenan (c), 8 Senitiki Nayalo

Replacements: 16 Ollie Adams, 17 Austin Hay, 18 Will Lloyd, 19 Luke Narraway, 20 Rory Brand, 21 Johnny Williams, 22 Jacob Atkins

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