Limerick Leader rugby correspondent Colm Kinsella talks to JJ Hanrahan, one of Munster rugbyâ€™s hottest prospects.
AS one of the hottest young properties in Irish rugby, JJ Hanrahan was much in demand last season. The 20-year-old jumped between the Munster â€˜Aâ€™ side, the Irish U-20s and with his club UL-Bohemian.
Not surprising then that the classy out-half admits calling a few Irish U-20s moves while playing for UL-Bohsâ€™ and getting a few blank stares from confused team-mates.
Hanrahan first served notice of his star quality at Castleisland RFC and has embellished his reputation further at Rockwell College, UL-Bohsâ€™, the Irish U-20s and Munster.
Born in Currow, Co Kerry, an area which has produced more than its share of Irish internationals over the years, including Mick Galwey, Moss Keane and the Doyles, Mick and Tom, rugby played second fiddle to Gaelic football for Hanrahan until he was in his teens.
â€œI always enjoyed rugby. I always liked it. Maybe I was a bit too physical playing Gaelic football and committed fouls,â€ Hanrahan said.
â€œRugby played second fiddle to Gaelic football until I was about 15 or 16. I had the opportunity to play minor but didnâ€™t go through with it. I played centre back or midfield. Eventually rugby took over. I was fortunate to be part of a really good team in Castleisland. We got to an All-Ireland semi-final and got spotted from there to Rockwell.
â€œI spent three years at Castleisland Community College. After my Junior Cert, I went to Rockwell. I had two years there. It was a great time. We got to two Senior Cup finals, but unfortunately lost both. It was a good experience.â€
After Rockwell, Hanrahan moved to Limerick and UL and is currently studying for a Business Degree Through Flexible Learning. He revealed that he opted to play his club rugby with UL-Bohsâ€™ because the Annacotty club provided him with the opportunity to play at senior level more quickly than other clubs.
â€œSome people wonder why didnâ€™t I join one of the traditional powerhouses in Shannon and Garryowen. Basically, I enquired a lot into it and I wanted to play top level senior rugby straight away,â€ Hanrahan explained.
â€œI had a relationship with Ian Costello from under-age rugby. But the deciding factor was being in the shop window. I wanted to be at a club where I felt I could play straight away. With Garryowen or Shannon I probably would have been playing U-21 for a year and sit on the bench for another year. With UL-Bohsâ€™ I think I played my first AIL game in my first season there. That has helped me come on in leaps and bounds as a player.â€
Hanrahan spent two years in the Munster Academy and has now been elevated to a development contract with the province.
Best known as an out-half - probably due to the major impact he made playing for the Irish U-20s at the summerâ€™s Junior World Championship - Hanrahan has also played at 12. While he believes the switches into the centre has benefitted him, he prefers the 10 role.
â€œI played a lot of 12. At the start you are wondering why are you not playing 10,â€ Hanrahan said.
â€œI have learned an awful lot from playing 12, especially in the defensive game and the way the game moves. But number 10 is my preferred position, my number one position. But ultimately itâ€™s up to the coach where they want to put me.
â€œThe Junior World Championship during the summer was the most I enjoyed my rugby, probably ever, since school 100%. I got lucky I suppose that Paddy Jackson was pulled. I donâ€™t know if I would have played 10 there or not. I didnâ€™t make the best of starts in the first game against South Africa. I had three kicks out on the full in the opening 10 minutes. After that things seemed to click. All I can say is that it was down to the boys who were there. They were absolutely outstanding. It was the best team morale I have experienced.â€
The new season is still in its infancy and Hanrahan, like several of his club mates is moving between the Munster â€˜Aâ€™ side and UL-Bohs, who he helped guide to Limerick Charity Cup success on Saturday.
He said: â€œI always feel it is a breath of fresh air to come back and play with UL-Bohs. You are given the licence to play. That is what I enjoy about playing for the club. It can take a night or two to learn all the calls with different teams. It has happened a few times on the field where you might call something from the Irish U-20s playing with UL-Bohs. You have guys looking at you wondering what it this fella saying. It has happened and you have to say â€˜sorry about that.â€™ It is a great learning experience.â€
Hanrahan appreciates that his form with the club side will dictate his chances of making a breakthrough into Munsterâ€™s senior side.
â€œIt all comes down to performance. Playing with UL-Bohsâ€™ in the Charity Cup final, not only do you want to win, but you want to set off your form,â€ he explained.
â€œI really enjoy playing with UL-Bohs because it is my game of rugby. It is exactly what I like. It gives you confidence going into â€˜Aâ€™ games and senior games. I see playing for UL-Bohs as a great opportunity from a tactical point of view to learn at training and the same with the Munster â€˜Aâ€™ side. I am really looking forward to playing in Division 1A in the AIL this season, especially the Friday night derby matches when I am involved. I am hoping the crowds will come out.
â€œI am a big believer in the view that if you are good enough you play. In my second year with the Munster Academy I trained with the seniors for the year. If you are good enough you should play. I never really liked to use my age as a factor.
â€œI think Rob (Penney) has been absolutely excellent. He really mixes up the game. He wants a mix between playing with width and going through the middle, crashing ball up. He really wants that mix. Whether it be wingers on the touchline or forwards, whoever is there, gets the ball wide and plays off that and trust their skills. That is the approach.â€