ON THE MORNING of 6 May, Hugo Keenan couldn’t help but feel a small bit of hope.
He hadn’t been on the 50-strong list of players who received an email from Warren Gatland to sound out their availability for the British and Lions tour, but the Leinster and Ireland fullback had been in good form, moving from Ireland debutant to nailed-on starter in the space of just a few months – playing every minute of the 2021 Six Nations.
Yet when Gatland named his 37-man touring squad, Keenan found himself in the same boat as Leinster teammates Johnny Sexton, James Ryan, Garry Ringrose and Josh van der Flier.
“Well I had never gotten any word about it, no email or anything like that, so you can always hope and dream,” Keenan says.
“I’ll just worry about this game, keep going and hopefully get selected for that Irish tour.”
Keenan has responded to the news well. In his first run-out following the Lions squad announcement, he bagged a first hat-trick since his days playing 7s as Leinster thrashed Connacht in Galway.
He knows there is still plenty to play for. He’s sure to feature for Ireland in the summer Tests against Japan and the USA, while Leinster boss Leo Cullen has already highlighted the possibility of Keenan getting a late call up to join the party in South Africa.
“I don’t think that (late call up) should be your motivation really,” Keenan says. “It’s just a tiny, tiny chance.
Keenan has enjoyed a superb season with both club and country. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
“There are other personal motivators, things going on, pushing for selection in Leinster and Ireland which will keep driving you on. Also, just wanting to go out and enjoy the rugby. That will keep you going.”
Speaking over Zoom following a Leinster training session in rare sunshine, Keenan is in good form. Part of that is down to the weather, part of it down to Chelsea’s Champions League final win on Saturday night.
Leinster have a maximum of three games left in their season, and despite a disappointing end to their Champions Cup campaign, the last year has been the stuff of dreams for the 24-year-old.
“Yeah, I can’t say I was expecting this season,” he continues.
“It’s had its lows but it’s been a great learning experience. It’s been great to be involved in the teams. I can’t say I was expecting it, so it’s been good.”