Hugo Keenan on the Ireland jersey swap he treasures most
"That will be a jersey, now, that I'll hold onto for a while."
18 Test caps into his international career and most everyone close to Hugo Keenan has got an Ireland jersey or some match-day memento.
In the space of 16 months, the Leinster star has shown the Test level was made for him. He has impressed on the wing and at fullback, with the No.15 jersey now firmly in his possession.
In the tight and tough Six Nations loss to France, Keenan, newly announced as an Energia ambassador, had the odd experience of playing his first Test match, away from home, in front of a capacity crowd. Such has been the sheltered existence many of Ireland's latest rugby generation have dealt with over the past two years.
"It was pretty insane, in fairness," he tells us. "The French crowd were up for it - 75,000 odd - and this noisy, loud party atmosphere. There was a great Irish contingent over there. About 5 or 10,000, and it gave us a bit of help in the game. It's about as tough as it can get right now, going over to Paris to take on a French side that are really in form right now."
While many in the Ireland squad will be itching to get a crack at Italy, Keenan and all those [barring the injured Rónan Kelleher] will be hoping Andy Farrell sticks with them for this Sunday's game. "It'll be a tough test as Italy have made it hard for France and England in the past couple of weeks. We'll be focused on making the right plans for them, and then ripping into each other in training."
Hugo Keenan on his favourite jersey swap
The Dubliner, who was part of a mighty Blackrock College Schools Cup team that included Caelan Doris, Nick Timoney and Joey Carbery, had a taste of U20 and Sevens rugby before he got his Test chance in October 2020.
Andy Farrell was looking at the likes of Jacob Stockdale and Jordan Larmour as replacements for fullback Rob Kearney, but Keenan grasped his chance the moment it arrived.
18 caps in, Keenan would have come across a host of talented backs and opposite numbers. He says, though, that he did not go swapping those first few Ireland jerseys he had the honour of wearing.
"I actually haven't swapped many, to be honest," he tells us. "Like, you never know how many you're going to get.
"At the start, I was definitely hanging on to every one I got. Because they are special, I gave a few to family members, who have supported me along the way, to try give back, I suppose, after all their help.
"One jersey I did get was Jordie Barrett's, after the New Zealand game. So I had a chat with him, and stuff, and he was a gent. That was a great day out, in the Aviva, and a special one. That will be a jersey, now, that I'll hold onto for a while."
Keenan, James Lowe and Andrew Conway were near-perfect as Ireland's back three, that day, as Ireland beat the All Blacks 29-20. Having that Barrett jersey is a memento the 25-year-old will certainly keep close over the coming years.
Given how rapidly Hugo Keenan has established himself on the Test scene, it would be no surprise if an Italian player or two approached Ireland's No.15, on Sunday, for a post-match jersey swap.
One man that definitely will have requests is his Leinster and Ireland teammate, Tadhg Furlong. Asked about the prop being pictured chatting and sipping on a cool beer, over at Stade de France, Keenan says, "I didn't even realise he'd gone in, at the time.
"I'd say Tadhg might have gone in as our dressing room was probably a lot bleaker and quieter in there. He's got to know a few of their players over the years so was probably going in to catch up with them."
*This season Energia is helping fans play their part and learn about how to be more sustainable and environmentally conscious through its Ireland’s Greenest Fan campaign.