With the province competing in the Heineken Cup, RaboDirect PRO12 and British & Irish Cup competitions this season, there is a big demand to bolster the squad and Manager Nigel Carolan has been busy extending his Academy to eighteen players.
Adding to the extensive expansion both on and off the field, all four players join Connacht on Academy contracts.
19-year-old Darragh Leader earned his first competitive start for the province last week against defending league champions Ospreys.The same week that Leader was officially signed to the Academy, he was selected by Eric Elwood to line out as full back against the Welsh side. Leader had impressed at Dubarry Park when he came off the bench with the Connacht Eagles against Newcastle Falcons in the British & Irish Cup. Darragh is younger brother to Tadhg Leader, who is currently in his second year of the Academy. He attended St. Joseph's College, Galway and plays with Galwegians. The young Leader has represented Ireland at U19 level and is currently with the Ireland U20 squad.
Another recruit to the backs is 20-year-old Steve Macauley, who has appeared with the Eagles this season in both B&I Cup fixtures. Macauley was predominantly a fullback at underage level, but has played plenty of rugby on the wing too. A standout player in the 2010 Leinster Schools Cup for Clongowes Wood College, Macauley opted to take up an Academy offer from Leicester Tigers at the start of the 2010/11 season, before moving to the Irish province this season. The Young Munster player has represented Ireland at U18 Schools level.
Scrum half Marcus Walsh played with the Connacht U20s last season before being contracted to the Connacht Academy. The former Blackrock College schoolboy has been a predominant fixture in all Connacht Eagles games this season and has also represented Ireland at U18 Schools level.
Up front, 20-year-old Peter Reilly joins the Academy outfit as Tighthead Prop. The 6ft, 113kg front rower is a former pupil of Castleknock College. Reilly was part of the U20 squad that recorded a highest ever 5th place in the 2012 IRB Junior World Championship last summer.
Connacht Rugby are delighted to be able to provide genuine rugby experience to emerging, Irish-qualified talent and these signings are the latest additions to that contingent.
Academy Manager Nigel Carolan is very pleased with the latest recruits: "I'm delighted to be able to officially integrate the four lads. Their hard work over the last six months has really paid off and they are fantastic additions to the Academy set up."