You’ve got to appreciate Ronan Kelleher’s enthusiasm.
It’s that trait and drive which brought him to the Aviva Stadium this weekend where he won his first cap for Ireland after coming on for Rob Herring in the 73rd minute of the 19-12 win over Scotland.
The 22-year-old Dubliner has been a revelation this season, grabbing his opportunity with both hands to become the first-choice hooker this season for Leinster despite his young age and only two senior appearances before this campaign began.
A hand injury suffered against Northampton in December threatened to halt his meteoric rise but he recovered in time to be included in Andy Farrell’s Six Nations squad. He explains that he was never worried that his international debut would be delayed.
“To be honest, it wasn’t really something that was on my mind,” Kelleher told the media in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night.
“When I had the hand injury, I was just very focused on getting back playing for Leinster at the time and obviously, it was a bonus to be included in that stocktake in December and then obviously in the squad then for the Six Nations, I was just delighted. When I was back out training I was just trying to put my best foot forward.”
Kelleher’s modesty shines through when the question is put to him that the starting hooker spot for Ireland is up for grabs in the wake of Rory Best’s retirement as he even lists off players who are not in the Six Nations squad as contenders for that starting berth.
“Yeah, up for grabs in a way but we have the three of us; myself, Hef [Dave Heffernan] and Rob [Herring] all fighting for it at the moment. On top of that there’s also Seanie [Sean Cronin] back in Leinster, Del [Shane Delahunt] in Connacht and Niall Scannell as well. There’s huge depth in that position anyway so it’s just about making sure you’re on form, when you have the opportunity, just trying to put your best foot forward.”
Kelleher may have only been on the pitch for less than 10 minutes, but international rugby is a different beast to what he would have experienced at PRO14 or European level with Leinster. He admits that the adrenaline got him through what was a very tough cameo as Ireland were desperately defending their line.
“It was very tough, obviously I was only on for the 10-minute stint and to be honest I was just kind of buzzing off adrenaline more than anything else, that kind of got me through it anyway. Yeah, it was attritional, it was tough. Obviously, it was pretty quick but yeah, I thought we did really well to dig in, to be honest.”
Looking ahead, the natural assumption would be that Kelleher is keen to win more caps but his enthusiasm is evident by revealing that the main goal is to win the Six Nations.
“Yeah absolutely, game time, but the overriding factor is to win the whole thing so that would kind of be the main thing throughout the whole squad, just go out there and win it.”