Dan Sheehan's connection to Romania and that "surreal" photo with Jonah Lomu
"It was a surreal moment"
One of Ireland's big concerns, after the 2019 World Cup, was how they would replace captain and starting hooker Rory Best. Rónan Kelleher and Rob Herring shared the task for a while before Dan Sheehan flung his hat into the ring, in 2021.
Since then, it has been Kelleher and Sheehan battling it out for that No.2 jersey, with Herring picking up 29 caps [15 starts] since that last World Cup. Heading into this tournament, Andy Farrell has backed the injury-hit Leinster hookers, knowing how crucial they are to his side's hopes.
In the first of his Ireland player profiles for the 2023 World Cup, Brian Strahan tells us the tale of Dan Sheehan and un unusual a road into professional rugby.
Dan Sheehan FACTFILE
Age: 24 (D.O.B. 17/09/1998)
Height: 1.91 M (6' 3')
Weight: 110 KG (17st, 4lbs)
Place of birth: Dublin, Ireland
School: Clongowes Wood College
Irish Caps: 18
Irish Debut: 2021
Pecking Order: First Choice
Dan Sheehan has one hand pressed against Jonah Lomu’s neck and one on the crown of his head. In fact, Lomu is holding both of Sheehan’s feet in his left hand, while Sheehan rests on his shoulder.
The future Irish hooker was aged five at the time, while Lomu was 27. "It was a surreal moment," Sheehan reflected, last year. "I was mad on rugby at that stage, so to meet him was a bit crazy."
If anything, a photograph that illustrates that the trajectory of life is an uncontrollable riddle.
Leinster Rugby, via Romania and Poland
Starting with Bective Rangers at a very young age - alongside his younger brother Bobby - a cultivated road of rugby progression wasn’t marked by the usual milestones. At the age of nine, Barry and Sinead Sheehan moved to Bucharest, with their young sons.
A job with Heineken took his father to the Romanian capital. Education was at the American International School of Bucharest in Voluntari, just outside the city. His athletic prowess was evident in sports like swimming and softball.
Differing disciplines, all playing their part in the varied skill-set the Irish hooker now brings to his game; nuanced in his footwork, handling acumen, athleticism and strength.
Poland awaited next before a return to Ireland. Education was at Clongowes Wood College, in the sprawling countryside near Clane, Co. Kildare, the fulcrum being a castle built in the 15th century by the Eustace family.
There was nothing antiquated about their rugby set-up, producing high-calibre Irish internationals in the mould of the likes of Rob Kearney and Gordon D’Arcy. Before being central to their Senior Cup Team who reached the last four in Leinster in his final year, Sheehan didn’t quite fly under the radar but was a member of the second team initially.
It is a paradox, that at 24 and so central to Ireland’s ambitions in France over the coming weeks, that he didn’t storm the stage at Leinster or with Ireland either, at underage levels. However, his velocity and speed, as well as his accuracy in the line-out balls he delivers with shrewd precision, has helped cement his place as a genuine world-class player.
Back in Bucharest, Dan and Ben would spin a rugby ball over their parents' clothesline; perfecting the spin, and delicate touch that forms the part of the game whereby nuance and delicacy are needed.
Dan Sheehan, the difference maker
Dan Sheehan has faced rejection at under-age level and hasn’t waltzed, despite his delicate footwork, into his current position. Hard work built on a multitude of motor skills from varying sports. The age-old argument of whether to focus on one sport in childhood or try your hand at a number of different ones. Strong evidence here of the former.
Grounded, measured and by accounts modest and giving with his time, Sheehan’s presence in a triumvirate of high-calibre hookers, wherein he is the beacon, is pivotal. Scrummaging against South Africa will be paramount against a pack capable of savagery. Pivots and shoulder drops in tight spaces, are a must when games will inevitably hang in the balance, potentially against Scotland at least.
Sheehan has a prolific try-scoring record for a hooker. Four tries in 20 international appearances is decent for a hooker. The four tries scored for Leinster in the Round 2 win of the URC over Benetton, saw him become the first Leinster player to achieve the feat.
If he does start against Tonga (on September 16), pending his return from the ligament damage to his foot suffered against England, his instinctive eye for crossing the line could be relevant. Then on to South Africa and the Scots.
The group stage has the potential to come down to fine margins. Dan Sheehan, could be the difference.
BRIAN O'DRISCOLL ON FIRST CALL-UPS AND CAREER HIGHS:
- Jack Crowley not letting Ross Byrne out of his sights, as Cian Prendergast books World Cup ticket
- Dan Sheehan gives positive injury update ahead of Rugby World Cup as Ireland team collect 'bagful' of kit
- Roy Keane cracks jokes with Johnny Sexton and Andy Farrell at Ireland training camp
- Paul O'Connell on his most treasured jersey swap and toughest opponent
- Tommy Bowe backs Jack Crowley as World Cup 'deputy' to Johnny Sexton