Sean Kennedy rises from obscurity to stake Six Nations claim

(L-R) Sean Maitland, Pat McCarthur, Ryan Wilson, Sean Kennedy, and Chris Fusaro. Picture: SNS

(L-R) Sean Maitland, Pat McCarthur, Ryan Wilson, Sean Kennedy, and Chris Fusaro. Picture: SNS

HAVE you heard the one about the Munster fan from Limerick who made his name for Glasgow, while on the books of Edinburgh, and now, while wearing Stirling colours, has been selected for a Scotland training squad?

Not yet maybe, but you will hear more of 21-year-old Sean Kennedy over the next few seasons after he was the surprise name to appear in Scott Johnson’s first national training squad. The scrum-half joined Edinburgh on leaving Lornshill Academy in Alloa on what the SRU now term “elite development player” contracts, equivalent to an academy deal.

A Scotland age-grade cap, he spent most of his first season in the Scotland sevens squad, but this season, however, new Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend offered him game-time in the west after losing Chris Cusiter and Murray McConnell to injury, while visa problems held up the arrival of Fijian signing Niko Matawalu. Kennedy supported Henry Pyrgos in pre-season and went on to start against Zebre and Leinster in the RaboDirect PRO12 and appeared most recently as a replacement in the Heineken Cup match in Castres. With Matawalu and Pyrgos back from autumn Test commitments, he has been playing for his old club Stirling County.

The surprise had still not worn off yesterday as he recalled being woken up on Saturday morning by the Scotland team manager Gavin Scott and told hours before he played for County, in the British and Irish Cup against Bedford, that he was one of ten uncapped players to be selected for the Six Nations training squad.

“I was actually asleep when I got the phone call,” he said. “I was in even more of a daze when I was told the news. I was struggling to speak when I found out. It was a massive surprise for me. He [Scott] told me I was going to be involved and that I would get an email that day. I didn’t tell anyone apart from my parents. I was bubbling inside. I was struggling in the game [against Bedford]. Every second play I was thinking ‘I can’t believe I’m involved in this’.”

Kennedy’s background is a fascinating one. His father Bernard is Irish, his mother Tracey is Scottish, and his childhood was spent largely in the south of Ireland. “I grew up in Ireland and spent the first 10 or 11 years of my life in Limerick,” he explained. “I came back to Scotland at the start of secondary school, but I was a big Munster fan and went to most home games. I still have a lot of friends and family over there. I was planning on heading over to Ireland next week actually as we had a week off here. I had booked flights and everything, but I suppose I’ll have to change all that now.”

Kennedy is also a cousin to Grant Gilchrist. He is another member of the uncapped tribe selected yesterday by Johnson. Their mothers are sisters and they came through the Alloa club’s youth system together, albeit in different positions.

“Grant’s dad, my uncle Tommy, was our coach, and my granddad played for Alloa as well. I played stand-off as a youngster and Grant was a stand-off a few times when I played scrum-half, and then he moved to centre!”

It is no coincidence that the pair have enviable skills after experiencing different positions, and they seem destined to be two of the most talked about new faces over the next year. Townsend had initially only gone looking for a stop-gap to cover injuries, but he has been pleasantly surprised by Kennedy’s ability to step-up at Glasgow.

The Warriors coach told The Scotsman: “I’ve been really impressed with the work that he has put into his game since he got here. He came in during pre-season and fitted in quickly, with a great work ethic and determination to improve. His pass has been excellent this season, and I’ve watched him a fair bit with Stirling as well. He gets the ball away nice and smooth and his attacking game is very sharp, similar to Chris Cusiter when he was first emerging. And he’s an excellent kicker.

“I’m delighted to see so many Glasgow boys being selected for the squad, and it’s great to see that even though Sean isn’t playing regularly for us, what he has done with us and with Stirling has been recognised.”

Kennedy may not make his full Scotland debut this spring, but with Cusiter out potentially for another month or more, Pyrgos away on Six Nations duty and McConnell just coming back and Edinburgh boasting five scrum-halves, he is likely to have more chances at pro level with Glasgow, and is odds-on to play for Scotland A.

“I’m an elite development player, so this is a major shock for me,” Kennedy added. “For me it is all about learning at this stage of my career. I want to take as much as I can from each training session. Learning from guys like Henry and Greig Laidlaw will be great, and obviously there will be people there who I haven’t worked with before too.”