Connacht Rugby have announced that Danny Qualter, JP Cooney and Shane O’Leary have all signed on to continue with the senior squad for 2016/17 while back-row forward Rory Moloney has been promoted from the Connacht Academy to join the senior ranks.
All three senior players featured in a number of games this season across both the Guinness Pro12 and the European Challenge Cup with Cooney and O’Leary named in the match day 23 for last week’s final in Edinburgh.
Athlone man Danny Qualter, a former Roscommon Minor and Clann na nGael Footballer, played in six games this season and earned his first start away to Newcastle Falcons in the Challenge Cup. The 24-year-old, who represented Ireland at U18, Youth Schools, U19, and U20s, will add more competition to the lock position for next season.
26-year-old prop JP Cooney will continue his progression under Pat Lam and Jimmy Duffy next term having made eight appearances from the bench this season. The Garryowen club man, who can play on both sides of the scrum, was sidelined for four months at the start of the season with a shoulder injury but made a recovery in February to contribute significantly to the front row efforts.
Meanwhile, the backs have been boosted by the extension of Shane O’Leary’s stay. The 23-year-old, who can play at centre or outhalf, signed from FC Grenoble in 2014 and made a notable impact on the field this season when injuries saw him catapulted into the number 10 shirt against Ulster, Grenoble and Munster. He kicked 31 points in eight games this season of which he started four.
Pat Lam also sees his back row options increase with the promotion of openside flanker Rory Moloney from the Academy. 21-year-old Moloney was called up to train with the senior squad at the tail end of the 2015/16 season. Yet to be capped, the former Cistercian College Roscrea student played a leading role in both the interprovincial and British & Irish Cup campaigns with the Connacht Eagles side. Moloney captained the Ireland U19’s side before going on to play in the U20’s Six Nations and World Championship in both the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons. Overall he played in 13 games, starting 10, for the Ireland U20’s.
Commenting on the latest deals, Head Coach Pat Lam said “While recruitment is ongoing, I have always said that retention is a very important part of what we do. It is vital that we hold on to young players like these who have demonstrated that they have the talent and the desire to succeed in a professional set up.
“Next season we will be defending a PRO12 title and competition in the top tier of Europe for the first time in three years so squad depth and competition for places will be crucial.
“Our squad is constantly evolving but we are very pleased with the talent and the calibre of young Irish talent we have coming through the system and these four guys epitomise that.”