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30th Mar 2016

Ignored while politely knocking on doors, Denis Buckley now smashing them down

Outstanding season

Patrick McCarry

A first Test cap is surely coming, sooner rather than never.

Denis Buckley has been linked to a senior Ireland debut longer than Ultan Dillane, Kieran Marmion, Robbie Henshaw or Finlay Bealham. Despite his Leinster leanings, we’d hazard to say many would have expected him to line out in a Six Nations game before Nathan White.

Five Connacht players featured in the emphatic win over Italy yet Buckley was not part of the conversation. Quinn Roux and Matt Healy were invited to Carton House for training runs but Buckley remained with his province.

The current pecking order in the national set-up reads: Jack McGrath, Cian Healy, James Cronin and Bealham, who can play either side of the front row. Then Buckley. Possibly. Maybe.

Buckley has kept his head down and battered away. He was out of action for a month – mid December to mid January – yet has still made 17 appearances for the league leaders.

Denis Buckley 14/11/2015

Anyone who has followed the westerners closely, this season, will tell you just how good Buckley has been. Injuries seem to befall him at the worst times [if there is ever a good time] but international recognition is surely coming. It must be.

Against Leinster, on Easter weekend, Buckley was a demon to play against.

Leinster were supposed to nip this Connacht surge in the bud. They were the PRO12 favourites. Propping options coming out of their ears. They had their internationals back, for God’s sake.

His scrummaging was solid and posed questions for Mike Ross, that wily old dog. He didn’t quite hit Eoin McKeon tackling levels [24 big hits] but every Leinster man he took down knew about it. He showed up in attack too and, when Connacht were trying to run ball out of their 22, volunteered for the task.

Buckley’s turnovers were his best contribution. He made two crucial interventions to turn over ball and forced another spill from a Leinster hand.

“Everyone did their job,” he modestly remarked after the final whistle.

He has been up to these antics – doing his job and then some – all season.

There is no question that McGrath is the main in firm possession of the Irish No.1 jersey.

Joe Schmidt seems to have settled on having Healy in an impact role and he’s some man for it. One finds it hard to see Schmidt leaving Healy at home to heal this summer. There are Tests to be won, or contested at least, in South Africa.

Buckley should travel, though. His cardio-vascular fitness has improved immensely in the past 18 months and he has become an on-pitch catalyst for a team riding high.

Three Tests in South Africa, on hard pitches at the end of an 11-month season, will sap most of the Irish squad.

At 25, Buckley is no longer that handy prospect from out west. This summer is a prime time to blood another Connacht man who is no longer playing above and beyond. He has found his level and it is a higher plain.

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