Thomas Ahern’s growing potential is underscored by Ireland’s appointment

Were it not for the injuries to John Hodnett and Gavin Coombes, Munster’s last Champions Cup squad this season would have consisted mostly of forwards under the age of 25.

That all have been refined from within confirms the impression of an imperceptible, internal growth now primed to thrive in the absence of a multitude of imports, not a few of whom struggle to justify their status in the ongoing quest to satisfy the province’s hunger for trophies to end.

And while Limerick’s dwindling resources in terms of adding prime beef remain a concern for some concerned supporters, the vibrant constituents of Rebel County, as well as further east in Déise country, offer a vivid promise of production lines oiled for success.

One can only hope that the next head coach will reaffirm his commitment to their development while having a clear vision of how they will play the game. Like Ardmore’s sky-high giant Thomas Ahern, so many of this new generation of Munster forwards have been hewn by underage teams comfortable playing expressive rugby.

A former full-back, Ahern is no stranger to ballplay, particularly with Noel McNamara’s international underage squads, which should now be viewed as a necessity of the sport rather than a luxury.

Not that the basics no longer apply. Ahern’s aptitude for the mechanics of a line-up so effective against Toulouse are the industrial tools without which he and his team struggle to create a worthwhile vision.

With loyal players like Billy Holland retiring and others like Tadhg Beirne suffering injury, the Waterford lad was under pressure to ensure the speedy delivery of his side’s airmail.

“Last year I was lucky enough, I had Billy who is a good man to help me with the lineouts, last year and this year Tadhg and Fineen Wycherley.

“We’re all very close and we’re always exchanging ideas and helping each other on this aspect of the game. It’s definitely a big job for me at the moment.

“Graham Rowntree has been a huge help with that in terms of my game, that kind of close work around my scrum, my mauling, my rucking and stuff like that. It was a big focus for me and my improvement.”

And apart from the hurlers of Séamus Power and Liam Cahill, Ahern form a trio of county mates – Jack O’Donoghue and Eoin O’Connor – who help boost Waterford’s sporting morale and widen Munster Rugby’s geographical base of play. The sense of belonging should not be underestimated.

“I’m very proud, to be fair,” says Ahern, who was successful in hurling and soccer as a youngster until a growth spurt in mid-adolescence catapulted the tenor of his sporting ambitions into another sphere.

“Growing up, I saw Jack come through the system and get the chance to play with him week after week, even my debut came and played with him.

“It’s a great experience because I watched him all the way up and it was great to finally play with him.

“He’s had a lot more of a leadership role this year, he’s been a lot more captain and you can just see it in his performances, he’s fighting every week and he’s been outstanding.

“He’s been consistently one of the top three players every week, he’s incredible. Just great.”

“Class” is now a word that also attaches itself to Ahern.

Already selected as a ‘development representative’ to train with the Ireland squad for the November 2021 series, it would be a huge surprise if he does not face the Maoris in New Zealand this summer.

“It was an incredible experience,” he says of his brief stint with Farrell’s men under the tutelage of the original “Line(out) King,” Paul O’Connell.

“All the guys were very good and very good at passing on details and stuff. Helping me acclimatize for the week was kind of seamless, and to be honest it was awesome.

“Obviously Paul O’Connell is an icon and it was great to get some experience and just chat with him up there in the Irish camp.

“Pretty similar enough to the rest of the guys it was just a small step up in pace and intensity, that was probably the biggest factor there.

“I got good feedback. I haven’t had many conversations since then, but it was good feedback.”

A professional career that began behind closed doors of the pandemic continues to accelerate before crowds nearly fill, a second in three weeks that lures him in Dublin tomorrow.

Belonging there requires no pretense. Thomas Ahern’s growing potential is underscored by Ireland’s appointment

Fry Electronics Team

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