Ireland U20 star Jake Flannery looks to get past Alessandro Fusco, of Italy, during the World Rugby U20 Championship pool game in Argentina last summer
SHANNON RFC and Munster Rugby out-half Jake Flannery has had a 12 months to remember.
Twelve months ago Flannery was a key member of the Ireland U20 side which celebrated Grand Slam glory in the U20 Six Nations Championship.
Then, just last month, the 20-year-old made his senior competitive debut for Munster in the Guinness PRO14.
Reflecting back on his memorable year, starting with Ireland U20s Grand Slam success which was secured with victory away to Wales, Flannery told Irish Rugby.ie: “It’s hard to believe it’s a year ago.
“It was a special night, lifting the trophy in Wales with that group of players and most of us were lucky to share it with family and friends too. My whole family were there and my girlfriend’s family actually came over as well. It was the best night of my career so far.”
“Watching this year’s Under-20s in the Six Nations actually just reminded me how special it was,” Flannery continued.
“Those nights down in Cork in front of packed crowds, you’ll just never forget those memories. And then the bond we formed as a team throughout the year, we all became so close and tight.
After featuring in the U20 World Championship in Argentina last summer, the Tipperary native earned a place in the Munster Academy and although a shoulder operation forced him to spend six months on the sidelines, Flannery bounced back to win his first cap for the southern province in a bonus-point win over Zebre earlier this season.
It is a testament not only to the 20-year-old’s capacity to rebound from a setback but also his exciting potential as a young out-half that Johann van Graan called Flannery into his senior squad and then gave him the opportunity in the jersey just a year into his time with the Munster Academy.
“Making the step up from Under-20s to senior rugby is a lot like going from secondary school to college,” he explained.
“It was strange at first but after the season we had winning the Grand Slam, I was so hungry going into Munster. I was confident and hungry for opportunities but then got the bad news about my shoulder. That was tough to take.
“I had great support from everyone at Munster and Johann and the coaches were in constant support so I was able to use that time off to meet and chat with them and the Academy coaches to work on different things in my game. I was really diligent in work off the pitch like in the video analysis room when I couldn’t train and I feel those little things are starting to pay off now.”
After working his way back to full fitness through game time with Shannon RFC in the Energia All-Ireland League, Flannery, who is mixing rugby with his academic studies in chemical engineering in University of Limerick, was able to pick up from where he left off with the Ireland Under-20s.
Although he played all his minutes for McNamara’s side in the backfield, save for an important cameo at out-half that night in Colwyn Bay, Flannery has always been earmarked as a talented out-half.
Having been told by van Graan he would be going to Italy with Munster as a non-travelling reserve, Flannery was then promoted to the replacements bench shortly before kick-off when Shane Daly pulled up in the warm-up.
“It was kind of unexpected,” Flannery explained.
“On the Monday, Johann just said he wanted me to travel to Italy to get my first involvement with the squad and told me if someone goes down, I’ll be in so prepare like you’re in. I went about the week as if I was starting at 10 and when I got the call in the warm-up, I was confident if I got on that I’d be fine.
“Once it was real and the game started, I got a little bit nervous but when you look around and you see all the faces that gives you confidence. If you’re good enough to be in that dressing room, you’re good enough to play and then the nerves went away pretty quickly.
“JJ (Hanrahan) had helped me a lot with plays and calls and I had spent a good bit of time when I was out injured studying those so I was confident I could slot in. Having trained with the senior team I’m definitely started to bond with the players and almost feel part of the squad now, which obviously takes time but is a credit to the senior players in the dressing room because they just welcome and look after you.”
Flannery added: “The Ireland Under-20 programme has been absolutely huge for me and you just look at our team from last year. A good few of us have gone on to play in the PRO14 this season and Ryan Baird has been in with the senior squad during the Six Nations.
“I made the Ireland Under-19s squad but I wasn’t a regular and had a lot to work on but learning off Noel, Kieran Campbell and Colm Tucker for a year was invaluable.
“It was a massive year for me and us as a group and without those experiences and that Grand Slam team, I don’t think I’d be where I am today. It was hopefully only the start for all of us in rugby but the level of coaching and support we received with the Ireland Under-20s gave us all that platform to make the next step.”