Kieran Campbell, Head of the Abbey Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy, has announced his squad for the 2017/18 season, which includes ten new entrants.
Ulster Rugby Academy
Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ player of the year Michael Lowry is among seven Year One entrants who will join the Academy straight from school. Lowry will be joined by fellow Schools’ Cup winning RBAI team-mate James Hume, while Ballymena Academy’s Alexander Clarke, Belfast Royal Academy’s Matthew Dalton and Campbell College’s Tom O’Toole, who all featured notably in this year’s Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup, are also included among the squad.
Joe Dunleavy and John McCusker, who both also recently completed their school studies, join the Academy having garnered their reputation in the Ulster Bank League with City of Derry RFC and Rainey OB RFC respectively. Back row forward Dunleavy came up through the youth ranks at Letterkenny RFC before joining City of Derry last season, where his outstanding performances saw him collect the Provincial Player of the Year, while second row McCusker was a member of the Rainey OB 1st XV who secured promotion to Division 2B.
The inclusion of Birr, County Offaly native, Jack Regan, along with Dunleavy, McCusker, plus current Academy members Aaron Hall and Adam McBurney, brings the number of players who have progressed into the Provincial setup via the Club Youth system to five, further highlighting Ulster’s commitment to providing a pathway for the best young talent across all areas of the game.
Also included in the squad are former Ireland U20 number 8 Greg Jones, plus prop Eric O’Sullivan, who featured for Ulster A in last year’s British & Irish Cup.
Of last year’s Academy squad, six players have been rewarded with upgraded contracts as David Busby, Aaron Cairns, Ross Kane, Rob Lyttle, Tommy O’Hagan and Jack Owens have all been included in the senior roster for the upcoming season. Of the six, only O’Hagan is yet to earn his first senior Ulster cap although he did feature prominently in the Ulster A team’s run to the British & Irish Cup playoffs and also made an appearance versus the Barbarians in June.
Commenting on the announcement of the squad, Kieran Campbell said:
“It is always an exciting time to announce the latest crop of players who are joining up with our Academy and it is no exception this year. It is a great honour to be asked to join the provincial Academy and I’m sure all the players will fully embrace the opportunity.
“The ultimate goal is that these lads will go on to play senior rugby for Ulster and Ireland, and it is gratifying to see so many players in our pathway earn international recognition. Last year we had 26 players wear the Ireland jersey at either U18, U19 or U20 level, our highest ever total for a season, which represents a 73% growth over the past six years.
“We are delighted to have the support of Abbey Insurance for the next three years and we look forward to working with them to ensure we continue to provide a world class experience for all our players, driving them towards the highest standards of excellence demanded at Ulster Rugby.”
Ulster Director of Rugby, Les Kiss, also welcomed the announcement of the new squad:
“The synergy between the senior team and the Academy is a critical element of the player development pathway and we will be striving to build on what was a very successful year last year, which saw six Academy players make their full senior debuts. To watch the likes of Rob Lyttle and Ross Kane seamlessly transition into the senior team and earn a significant number of caps throughout the season is testament to the work being done by Kieran and his staff. The fact that all six are home grown players is even more pleasing as the development of our indigenous players is a core part of what we are about at Ulster. Myself and the other senior coaches are really looking forward to working with the new batch of players during the season ahead.”
Abbey Insurance, Northern Ireland’s largest locally owned insurance broker, were recently announced as the new sponsor of the Ulster Rugby Academy, as well as Kingspan Stadium’s Family Stand.
Abbey Insurance founder and Chairman George Storey added:
“We are delighted to be involved in announcing the Abbey Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy squad for the 2017/18 season. We are very proud to be supporting the Academy and its quest to nurture and develop the next batch of talent to go on and play for Ulster and Ireland.
“The Academy is going from strength to strength providing the most talented young players in Ulster with world class facilities and the highest standards of coaching. We are really looking forward to seeing this year’s batch of talent in action and how they develop throughout the season.
“We would like to wish all the Abbey Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy players and coaching staff the very best of luck for the season ahead.”
For full squad details and information on the Abbey Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy visit www.ulsterrugby.com/academy
Pictured is Abbey Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy squad and support staff with George Storey, Chairman of Abbey Insurance Brokers.