Kieran Marmion happy all the hard work paid off

Connacht scrumhalf had to bide his time before making his Ireland debut

The Connacht duo of Kieran Marmion and Rodney Ah You after making their debuts in the first Test against Argentina  at Estadio Centenario in Resistencia. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

The Connacht duo of Kieran Marmion and Rodney Ah You after making their debuts in the first Test against Argentina at Estadio Centenario in Resistencia. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

In stark contrast to the weekly workload of his Connacht career over the last couple of seasons, Kieran Marmion has had to bide his time with Ireland. Taken on tour to the USA and Canada last summer, he was the only player in the squad to come back uncapped, and then had to wait another 12 months before finally making his debut in the 29-17 win in the first Test against Argentina.

Cometh the hour, or at any rate a minute shy of the 60 mark, Marmion came on for Conor Murray, and wasn’t shy about taking a quick tap or going for the line in his customary fashion.

“It’s great to get the opportunity and all the hard work to pay off. I was delighted to get out on the pitch. Obviously after last year not getting on, I was just happy to get out there to get a run out.”

Nine minutes after his arrival, Rodney Ah You was introduced for his debut at, by comparison, a week’s notice rather than a year’s, assuredly making this the first occasion two Connacht players made their Irish debuts on the same day – in the professional era at any rate.

“One of our coaches Dan (McFarland) was on to us about that,” said Marmion. “So obviously great for Connacht to get two players in the squad and we’re both proud to represent Ireland and being playing for Connacht.”

As John Cooney moves to Connacht on loan and thus perhaps clears the way for Irish Under-20 captain Luke McGrath to obtain more game time at Leinster as well, Marmion’s career study over the last two seasons gives the lie to the notion that young Irish players are somehow better off furthering their development at one of the big three as opposed to heading or remaining out west.

Whereas Cooney has played 21 games (14 off the bench) and McGrath 11 (all but one off the bench) Marmion started 26 of Connacht’s competitive games this season and came off the bench in the other two. The 22-year-old also played in every match for the province last season when Frank Murphy suffered a long-term injury and Paul O’Donohoe, who has also now moved on, was sidelined at the start of the campaign.

Remarkably therefore, Marmion has played 56 games for Connacht in succession since making his debut in last season’s league opener at home to the Cardiff Blues, starting all but two of them, including a dozen Heineken Cup matches.

“I’ve been pretty lucky to not get injured and keep getting picked to be honest. So it’s just great to keep getting the opportunity and keep getting the run-out to play.”

His composure around the base, and ability to execute almost without being noticed, sharp break (he has already scored seven tries for Connacht including the match winner away to Toulouse) and consistent form ensured he deserved his first Test cap.

“I can’t contest that really,” said Joe Schmidt last week on foot of selecting Marmion on the bench. “I do think that Kieran has rolled his sleeves up. He came on tour to North America last year and he didn’t get a run because the games were so competitive and, with guys away on the Lions, it just meant that a little bit more was required of Isaac Boss and Paul Marshall at the time.”

“From him, I expect the same terrier like defensive tenacity, I expect a continual improvement in the consistency of his kicking game and his ability to get his kicking game away and I think his passing game has come on. It was one of the real challenges we set for him, to get that continuity in his passing game – particularly left to right – and he’s done a good job of it. So, I’d expect that he’ll come on, he’s worked incredibly hard to fit in.”

Schmidt is known for his disinclination to overly praise players, indeed he invariably tends to single out a strong performer by gently reminding them of something they did wrong, and he was both less effusive and less revealing when briefly reflecting on Marmion’s debut soon afterwards.

“Kieran Marmion went very close and he will learn a bit from that,” said Schmidt in reference to the scrumhalf making a blindside duck for the line and being held up.

It remains to be seen whether Marmion will even be named on the bench, perhaps as back-up to Eoin Reddan rather than Murray given the latter has thus far sat out training due to a dead leg, but if he does and is afforded an opportunity one ventures that if he is to go for the try-line he’d better convert the opportunity into a try.

Marmion noted a marked increase in intensity compared to the Pro12 in his 21 minutes on the pitch. “Even in training and stuff, it’s all a step up so it’s a great experience and something that we definitely take on board for when we go back and play with our regions.”

Having had a taste of life with the Irish squad under Schmidt has only whetted Marmion’s appetite for more, especially with next year’s World Cup in mind. “That’s what we all want so to do that, we have got to go back and work hard with our regions and to try and push on from where we are now.”

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