Craig Casey living the dream as he claims a place with Ireland’s elite

Ebullient young scrumhalf steeped in the rich rugby heritage of Shannon and Munster

Craig Casey: “I remember when we won the AIL in 2009, my father was the coach, and going on to the pitch with them all and just seeing the three days of celebrations they had afterwards.” Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Craig Casey: “I remember when we won the AIL in 2009, my father was the coach, and going on to the pitch with them all and just seeing the three days of celebrations they had afterwards.” Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

Craig Casey readily admits he set a goal during the first lockdown last year to win his first cap this season. He hasn’t got there yet but being named as one of three scrumhalves in the Irish squad continues the diminutive 21-year-old’s rapid career trajectory.

Despite a 14-month lay-off in his early days in the Munster academy, which in some ways he says has made him more durable now, his elevation is not a surprise. Like a Duracell bunny on speed, Casey’s quickfire passing, low centre of gravity, acceleration, footwork, eye for a gap and tackling were a stand-out feature of Ireland’s 2019 Grand Slam.

A try scorer on his home European debut off the bench for Munster almost exactly a year ago, his energy and enthusiasm have been readily embraced by Andy Farrell.

What you see with Casey on the pitch is what you get off it. He’s a bubbly, engaging, ever-smiling character.

He was born to play rugby. His uncle is the former Shannon and Munster player Mossy Lawlor, and he grew up in a “sports-mad house”. His father Ger coached him all the way up to the Shannon under-14s.

“My sister [Amy] and my mother [Sinead] are fairly competitive as well. My mother was an Irish gymnast growing up and represented Ireland there, so she’ll slag me that she wore the green first. Then my sister was an All-Ireland champion in gymnastics, about 20 medals, so it’s definitely a competitive household and you don’t get an inch in there.”

Steeped in Shannon, he can remember his first mini-rugby game.

“I was four and we played Richmond on the back field of Coonagh. Yeah, I can remember that, not well, but there’s photos of me. Very, very small and obviously not a lot has changed,” says the 5ft 5in scrumhalf.

“But that’s where it all started.”

Constantly at training and on match days with Shannon, they didn’t make allowances for the little kid in their midst.

“There was no minding themselves. I’ve been in plenty of dressing-rooms when I was younger with them, celebrating wins. It was pretty cool in fairness. I remember when we won the AIL in 2009, my father was the coach, and going on to the pitch with them all and just seeing the three days of celebrations that they had afterwards – carnage!”

A stand-out memory was at the age of 13 when playing in the Pat Lawlor Tournament, named after his grandfather in UL Bohs.

School’s alumni

“We lost in the quarter-final in extra time and that defeat probably lives with me the most because that tournament meant so much to me. You play about six or seven games in the day and I just remember that being class.”

He played soccer for Caherdavin Celtic, Fairview Rangers and Coonagh United, and for the Limerick District Schoolboy League (LDSL) Under-14 side in the Kennedy Cup, but a missed penalty in the 3rd/4th play-off remains the last time he kicked a ball competitively.

Casey has been dreaming about playing for his province since he was a six-year-old mascot at a Munster-Border Reivers game at the old Thomond Park in September 2005, when led out onto the pitch by Anthony Foley.

“That was pretty cool and obviously with Axel passing away, it probably means more seeing that photo. I only lived two minutes away from Thomond Park, so I’d be there every match day getting stuck into it.”

When it comes to rugby, it was ever thus. “Definitely obsessed.”

He captained Ardscoil Rís to a Senior Cup semi-final defeat against Glenstal by 21-20. With Paul O’Connell amongst the school’s alumni, these past few days must have been a pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming moment.

Craig Casey: A try scorer on his home European debut off the bench for Munster almost exactly a year ago, his energy and enthusiasm have been readily embraced by Andy Farrell. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Craig Casey: A try scorer on his home European debut off the bench for Munster almost exactly a year ago, his energy and enthusiasm have been readily embraced by Andy Farrell. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

“Killer [David Kilcoyne] was actually slagging me during the week, because he’s Ardscoil too. He was like: ‘It’s mad being with your hero in camp, isn’t it?’ There’s been a bit of craic with Killer saying that “the Ardscoil lads are back”. You see the likes of them on the wall [in school] in Ireland jerseys. You definitely want to bring stuff like that back to the school and it is cool to have the three of us in there.”

It comes as no surprise that he still has Peter Stringer’s shirt from 2005-06, a communion present from his uncle Mossy.

“I loved the way he played. His pass was unbelievable and that’s obviously something that I’ve taken forward.

“In recent years you’ve got the likes of Aaron Smith, Faf de Klerk, Antoine Dupont – I watch a lot of tape on them – and then obviously in the years through school Conor Murray was absolutely unbelievable. Obviously he’s a different player than I am but some of the things he brings you’ve got to take away. I had my uncle as well growing up to look at and try to emulate.”

Living the dream.

Tadhg Furlong will make his long-awaited return after being sidelined since last February with back, hamstring and latterly calf injuries. The 28-year-old Lions’ tight-head, who last played for Leinster over a year ago, has been named to start in the champions’ Guinness Pro14 game away to the Scarlets this evening (kick-off 7.35pm, live on eir Sport and TG4).

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