Who is Rónan Kelleher? Rounded skill-set has helped Leinster hooker’s rise

Former St Michael’s player has an eye for the tryline just like Leinster colleague Seán Cronin

The younger brother of Leinster winger Cian, Rónan Kelleher’s graph has arced this year with the Leinster frontrow reaping the benefit of a young hooker on the rise.

Seamlessly adding to the Leinster try haul in the early season absence of touchdown specialist Seán Cronin, Kelleher continues what the veteran Irish hooker ably began some years back.

Before the 22-year-old injured his hand in early December and threw his involvement in Ireland’s opening game against Scotland on Saturday into question, he had already, in a sense, doffed his cap to Cronin with seven tries in eight games. The crowd pleasing baton was passed.

Another from the St Michael’s assembly line, where his Cork-born father Tim is the proud headmaster, Kelleher’s dalliance with a number of positions before settling in the middle of the frontrow has brought him to the verge of his first cap. Few are surprised after a turbo-charged opening half of the season with Leinster.

"He's very level-headed and he just gets on with things, works hard, head down. His attention to detail is very, very good," said Leinster coach Leo Cullen.

That does not fully describe his meteoric rise. Kelleher played just two senior matches last season, against Ulster and in his debut off the bench against Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth.

But he has been a more consistent performer this season with four of his eight games so far against European Champions Cup opposition, Northampton, Lyon and most recently Benetton for the second time.

In Kelleher’s first five matches he was averaging more than a try a game and by early October had six tries from five matches, including two against Connacht and a hat-trick against Ospreys, only the fourth hooker to achieve that in Pro 14 history.

An explosive operator and a natural athlete, Kelleher still has the trademark characteristics of a player that spent some time in the backline when he was younger. He has also played the backrow with Lansdowne on his way to the front three, all of it adding to a rounded skill-set.

A natural ball carrier with genuine pace and handling skills, he also possesses God-given acceleration to make a linebreak, qualities that have nudged his six foot frame ahead of James Tracy and Bryan Byrne in the pecking order.

Kelleher’s first try in his hat-trick against Ospreys highlighted what a mobile player he has become, appearing on the shoulder of Will Connors’s to collect the ball and work the pistons for a full 45 metres to score in front of an appreciative RDS crowd.

For his third try in the same match, had he put on a ginger wig, he could well have been Cronin, crouched at the back of a rolling maul before peeling off and sprinting over the line from close in.

It is a tribute to Kelleher’s physical conditioning that he also stood firm when Leinster found themselves in an arm-wrestle on a greasy pitch in Lyon in the first of their European pool meetings. A fiercely physical contest, the then 21-year-old impressively held his own against the home team, Leinster effectively defending and tackling their way to the win.

Andy Farrell will be expected to spring Kelleher from the bench for Rob Herring in the second half against Scotland. It is a huge step up for a hooker that is still learning the position. But what a trip it has been so far.

Kelleher has shot from making his debut for Leinster last February in South Africa to a probable first Irish cap. A hell of a lot of ground to cover in less than a year.

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