Irish Internationals Who Have Played Second Fiddle For Most Of Their Careers

Christopher Brady

Christopher Brady

Chris is a rugby player and fan currently plying his trade in the UK. Whilst new to writing, he is an avid fan of Rugby and loves to write about his thoughts for the season.
Christopher Brady


To get capped by your country is a huge honour in any sport, particularly in Rugby. To get capped regularly is a huge achievement and to be a regular matchday 23 squad member is incredible.

But to be in the 1st XV consistently is the ultimate achievement. These are the players who are or were so close to being 1st choice for Ireland, but unfortunately, haven’t or didn’t quite make it.

Tiernan O’Halloran – Rob Kearney

When you think of areas in which Ireland are lacking another specialist fullback comes to mind. Kearney, love him or hate him, has been Ireland’s 1st choice full back since the 2011 World Cup. With the exception of Felix Jones (who was forced to retire through injury) and Tiernan O’Halloran, the only other people to start at fullback between 2011 and 2018 are Simon Zebo, Robbie Henshaw, Andrew Trimble, Keith Earls, Jared Payne and Andrew Conway.

These players have constantly shifted in and out of other positions and none have been able to nail down the 15 shirt. After Connacht’s PRO12 winning 2015-16 season, many thought O’Halloran would be the next in line to Kearney.

However, with only 6 caps to his name, being dropped from the Ireland Squad and the likes of Jordan Larmour tearing teams to shreds, it seems less and less likely he will ever be Ireland’s primary 15. These days he can’t even make the squad.

Kieran Marmion –  Conor Murray

He was playing third fiddle to Eoin Reddan and even fourth to Isaac Boss when Marmion made his debut off the bench against Argentina in 2014, but since the 2017 Six Nations, he seems to have the no.21 jersey nailed down.

The Irish Exiles programme player has done an excellent job in filling in for Conor Murray at times, but Murray being in such as class of his own, will always be number one. And with Luke McGrath and John Cooney now on the scene – Marmion could very well drop even further down the pecking order.

Ian Madigan – Johnny Sexton

When Madigan made his Ireland debut during the dark days of Irish Rugby during the 2013 Six Nations, it didn’t take long for Les Kiss as interim coach and then Joe Schmidt to realise he was leagues ahead of Paddy Jackson, arguably because of the incredibly rocky start to his international career.

By the final game of the 2014 Six Nations, Madigan was the no.2 to Sexton. Many Ulster fans felt aggrieved over Jackson’s lack of game time during the 2015 World Cup, but Madigan was dominant in the 2nd place slot.

When Sexton was injured during the France game, Madigan ran the show and kept Ireland in the game against Argentina. But playing second fiddle to Sexton at Provincial and International level has proved too much and forced Madigan to go overseas with Bristol.

Sean Cronin –  Rory Best

What the hell does Sean Cronin have to do to get a start at hooker? 62 caps since 2009 and since then, he’s gone on to win two Champions Cups, a Challenge Cup, three PRO12/14 titles with Leinster, as well as three Six Nations Titles and a Grand Slam with Ireland.

But he’s only started 9 times for Ireland in that time – mostly against 2nd tier nations. He was handed a rare start against Australia over the summer, only to pull out before the game with an unfortunate injury.

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