Leinster’s Max Deegan ready to emulate Under-20 musketeers
Number eight next in line for Ireland after emergence of Ryan, Stockdale and Porter
Max Deegan was named player of the tournament at the 2016 Under-20 World Cup. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Max Deegan is hoping to expand a trio into a quartet. In 2016 Ireland reached the Under-20 World Championship final only to lose out to hosts England. Three of that team, captain, James Ryan, Jacob Stockdale and Andrew Porter have all being capped by Ireland senior coach Joe Schmidt.
Deegan who bears more than passing resemblance to the Hollywood film iterations of D’Artagnan is hoping to join the ‘three musketeers,’ from the age-grade class of two years ago. It’s hardly a pipedream as he was voted 2016 Under-20 World Championship Player of the tournament, scoring tries against New Zealand, Argentina and England in a series of outstanding performances.
The former St Michael’s College number eight walked away from the tournament with a profile that would have made him highly desirable to clubs abroad but instead agreed to a contract in the Leinster academy. He explained: “I’ve always wanted to play for Leinster. I also knew that it was so early in my career and that the standard in the backrow (at Leinster) is so high.
“I knew the competition, the level of training, would push my game on. If I went somewhere and was straight in there, I wouldn’t be at the same standard that (there) is at Leinster. There is no other club with the strength we have. The level of training is just unrivalled.”
It’s not that he lacks ambition as he pointed out when asked how long he would be prepared to bide his time when weighing up the logjam of backrow talent at the province against the potential for sufficient game time. “As long as I feel that that I’m getting better, then if there are no opportunities coming, I will have to have a rethink. For now, I am really happy with where I am and really enjoying the rugby I’m playing in Leinster.”
Far from being envious of his former Under-20 buddies he’s delighted to see them graduate to the senior Irish side because it reaffirms that there is a pathway; the challenge for him is that backrow boasts the greatest resource depth, provincially and nationally.
He rates Ryan, with whom he soldiered alongside at school, province and Irish-20s, as the best player he’s played with to date. “I just think it is his mindset and his drive to perform as well as he can in every single thing he does whether that is in the gym, on the pitch and in the video room.
“Everything he does on the pitch, he is always trying his best, working as hard as he can. If someone makes a line break, he’s chasing back to catch him. If he is just hitting a ruck, he is giving it his best. A standard like that, everyone should be pushing to get to.”
Deegan went straight from school to playing with Lansdowne in the Ulster Bank League Division 1A, comfortably surviving the physical toll of senior rugby and last year made his debut for Leinster. This season he’s played nine provincial matches, started five and scored three tries, one in each of three games in which he has played the 80-minutes.
He’s an exceptional athlete but the elements of his game on which he’s been asked to focus are a little more prosaic but nonetheless fundamental to his continuing development. He explained: “I have sat down and talked to Leo (Cullen) at different times over the course of the season, just where I need to strengthen up on, the breakdown, getting good body height, simple things, but they have to be done perfectly at this level.
“So I just need to keep building on that kind of stuff, and at the lineout as well. I haven’t really been in too many lineouts at that kind of standard, so just pushing my lineout skills.”
He still gets asked about the tweet he sent to Jamie Heaslip as 17-year-old Irish Schools player, the gist of which was that he was coming for Heaslip’s jersey and to keep it warm. Deegan had worn the wrong socks to training and that was the punishment.
Leinster entertain the Scarlets at the RDS, on Saturday, first against second in the conference and they meet again in Wales in a couple of weeks time; huge games and for Deegan a massive opportunity.