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25th Dec 2014

The 10 Irish rugby stars who made us sit up and take notice in 2014

Some are young, some are old(er), but they all made a breakthrough in the past 12 months

Patrick McCarry

Some have been around longer that others but all have made a positive impact in 2014

The past 12 months have been remarkable for Irish rugby. Joe Schmidt has taken Ireland from ninth in the world to third and has captured a Six Nations trophy along the way. Munster flew the flag longest in Europe while Leinster retained their PRO12 title. Here are 10 players that stood out for us during the year.

Dave Foley (Munster)

Dave Foley 22/11/2014

At 26 and five seasons into his Munster career, the lock is hardly a young bolter but qualifies due to his impressive emergence in the national team. Injuries to Iain Henderson and Dan Tuohy opened a Test match door and Foley grabbed with. He was man of the match against Georgia and performed heroically, off the bench, in the defensive stand against Australia.

Rhys Ruddock (Leinster)

Made his Test match debut as a 19-year-old, away to Australia, in 2010. Fell down the pecking order with Leinster as he sought to add physicality to his game while retaining his speed. Now a trusted back row lieutenant at Leinster, he filled in admirably at openside during Chris Henry’s enforced absence from the national team.

Robbie Henshaw (Connacht)

Robbie Henshaw 6/11/2014

A genuine backline all-rounder now after appearing at inside and outside centre while also playing fullback for his province. Answered any questions about his Test match credentials with two sturdy outings against two of the world’s best sides. Has added try scoring to his repertoire for Connacht and will hope to replicate that for Ireland in the Six Nations.

James Cronin (Munster)

Made his Test debut in Argentina during the summer to complete a remarkable season that saw him begin as replacement prop in a Munster A game. Mick O’Driscoll is a big fan of the Cork loose-head. Should push Jack McGrath for the back-up role to Cian Healy.


Jack Conan (Leinster)

Made an instant impact for Leinster when summoned from Ulster Bank League duty with Old Belvedere. Matt O’Connor is a fan of Conan and feels he can adequately cover any of the back row positions.

Matt O'Connor and Jack Conan 25/11/2014

Chris Farrell (Grenoble)

Injuries halted Farrell being fast-tracked into the Ireland senior set-up following a stellar start to international life with the Under 20s. Moved to Grenoble over the summer and quickly established himself as a regular, and a scoring threat.

Stuart McCloskey (Ulster)

The hard-hitting centre looks set to populate the Ulster midfield for years to come after making the most of the chances provided to him by Matt O’Connor last season. Under Les Kiss, then Neil Doak, he has worked up good combinations with both Darren Cave and Jared Payne. One of the reasons Ulster allowed Farrell to leave was due to McCloskey’s form.

Darragh Leader (Connacht)

Darragh Leader 4/11/2014

Touted as a genuine back three talent for the past two years, Pat Lam gave Leader a taste of first team action last year before throwing him right into the mix this time out. Was called into Ireland’s Guinness Series squad and earned praise from Joe Schmidt.

Paddy Butler (Munster)

The Garryowen back row has been on the scene for three seasons but is getting a fair crack at Munster by Anthony Foley. A bustling ball-carrier who knows where the tryline is.

Under 20s

Jack O’Donoghue (Munster)

Excelled for Mike Ruddock’s men in a middling Six Nations campaign then upped the ante again on Ireland’s run to the semi-finals at the Junior World Championship.

Jack O' Donoghue on the attack 10/6/2014

Garry Ringrose (Leinster)

The UCD centre was out of the starting frame earlier in the year but forced his way into the JWC reckoning and had a fine tournament. Was called in to train with the Ireland squad during the Guinness Series.

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