It’s been a great year – Ireland’s Dan Sheehan relishing rapid rise

Hooker Dan Sheehan always envisaged playing for Ireland but admits a whirlwind 2022 has exceeded expectations following his nomination for world breakthrough player of the year.

The 24-year-old has established himself as a regular under Andy Farrell during a stellar 12 months in which he contributed significantly to tour success in New Zealand and victory over world champions South Africa.

He only made his international debut last autumn and began the calendar year behind Leinster team-mate Ronan Kelleher in the pecking order and still awaiting a first Test start.

A shoulder injury suffered by Kelleher in the second-round Guinness Six Nations defeat to France opened the door to the number two jersey and Sheehan has not looked back.

His rapid rise was on Monday recognised with a place on World Rugby’s shortlist for the year’s best emerging talent, alongside Ireland team-mate Mack Hansen, England’s Henry Arundell and Italy back Ange Capuozzo.

“The last year has gone so quickly and I have enjoyed every second of it,” said Sheehan, who is expected to win his 13th cap in Saturday’s Dublin clash with Australia.

“I’ve probably come along a bit further than I thought, but it’s been great.

“I was playing AIL (All-Ireland League) week in, week out not so long ago and to be here at the top, international rugby, it’s exactly how I dreamed as a kid that this is what it would be like.

“It has been a great year. And I can’t wait to keep going and put my best foot forward.”

Sheehan had been a constant starter since seizing on Kelleher’s misfortune in Paris until Farrell opted to hand opportunities to a host of fringe players in last weekend’s disjointed 35-17 win over Fiji.

He was a key cog in the team which toppled the All Blacks during the summer and prolonged his fine form in this month’s 19-16 success over the Springboks.

“Always as a kid, I pictured myself playing for Ireland,” he continued. “I just found a bit of confidence in myself and my ability and doubled down on my strengths.

“You can spend a lot of time trying to fix the things you are not so good at, but if you really focus on the things you are good at and make sure they become a world-class thing then you might get your foot in the door.

Dan Sheehan, not pictured, enjoys a healthy rivalry with Ronan Kelleher, right
Dan Sheehan, not pictured, enjoys a healthy rivalry with Ronan Kelleher, right (Brian Lawless/PA)

“It was about making sure I was ready to step up if needed, then Ro went down in the France game and from there on I’ve felt comfortable – I felt like I had done the work, I felt like I had the right to be there.

“So it wasn’t too scary. I didn’t feel out of my depth. I felt very comfortable in the squad that I had around me and the preparation that was put in.”

Sheehan also attributes his rapid progress in part to his friendly rivalry with “best mate” and fellow 24-year-old Kelleher.

“Ronan’s an unbelievable player,” said Sheehan, whose Leinster debut came in October 2020. “The two of us have been able to push each other really hard.

“I’d like to say that the two of us wouldn’t be here or at the standard that we are if we didn’t have each other because it is good competition, but we are also best mates.

“I’m glad to have someone my age that I can bounce ideas off, who’s walking through the same door basically.”

Ireland sit atop the global rankings following eight wins from 10 Tests this year.

In addition to recognition for Sheehan and Hansen, Farrell was nominated for coach of the year, with captain Johnny Sexton and flanker Josh Van Der Flier on the main player-of-the-year shortlist.

Sexton and Van Der Flier were back in training on Tuesday ahead of the autumn finale against the Wallabies after missing the Fiji game through injury, as were Hugo Keenan, Andrew Porter, James Ryan and Jimmy O’Brien.

Leinster fly-half Ross Byrne has been added to Farrell’s squad after Joey Carbery, who has returned to Munster for treatment, suffered a head injury last weekend.