Four years ago, Max Deegan sent a tweet to Jamie Heaslip warning the established Ireland and Lions star to ‘keep my jersey warm for me.’ Heaslip has been out of the picture this season, but that hasn’t made Deegan’s rise any less impressive.
So far, the 21-year-old has made nine appearances this campaign, including five starts in the No 8 shirt and three tries.
His star is rising quick, and Heaslip hasn’t forgotten that early warning message.
Max Deegan is a rising star at Leinster and hopes to break into the Ireland national team
He once tweeted Jamie Heaslip warning the Lions star to ‘keep my jersey warm for me’
‘He’s said it me a few times,’ Deegan says of the tweet.
‘That was just a punishment, I wore the wrong socks to training and had to send that tweet out. I forgot about it and then it came up again [when I was in the team]. It’s funny enough.
‘Ah, I’m happy with how the season is going so far for me. There’s so much competition in the back-row at Leinster, every training session is so competitive that you’re always pushing yourself and pushing each other to get the best out of everything.’ Deegan has come up through the ranks alongside a special crop of Irish talent.
In 2016, he was named World Rugby Under 20 Championship Player of the Tournament after Ireland lost out to England in the final, and while some of his teammates from that squad have already received senior international honours, the young No 8 insists that he doesn’t get bogged down by his lack of opportunities.
In 2016, he was named World Rugby Under 20 Championship Player of the Tournament
So far, Deegan has seen former underage team-mates Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Porter and James Ryan all get capped by Joe Schmidt.
‘It’s not a frustration at all,’ he continues.
‘It’s great to see the lads doing so well, and it’s definitely great to see that they are giving opportunities to younger players like that.
‘Obviously that drives me to push on and get up to that standard. They’re all some of my best mates, so you want to be playing with them.
‘I always knew, even from Under 18s up, when we were in the final of the U18s European tournament, that we had a good bunch of players. We always just concentrated on ourselves and didn’t really think about the future too much. We always just thought about the present and the games that we were playing.
‘Now, looking back on it, you think “Jesus, we had some bunch of players”, but in the moment you’re not really thinking about that, you’re only thinking about winning games.
‘I’d say, all of us playing together at the same time, we would drive the standards. So, the level of training and the level of the games would always be higher. If you have one guy playing really well then the other good guys around him will want to be pushing to that standard.’
Deegan has seen former underage team-mates such as James Ryan (top, with ball) get capped
Deegan was impressed with how Porter handled himself after being thrown into the action just five minutes into the win over Italy, but he holds special praise for Ryan, who he considers to be the best player that he’s lined out alongside.
‘I just think it is his mindset and his drive to perform as well as he can in every single thing he does, whether that is in the gym, on the pitch and in the video room.
‘Everything he does on the pitch, he is always trying his best, working as hard as he can.
‘If someone makes a line break, he’s chasing back to catch him. If he is just hitting a ruck, he is giving it his best.
‘A standard like that, everyone should be pushing to get to.’ As for his own standards, Deegan is hoping to use the current Six Nations window to showcase his talents with Leinster, who take on Scarlets in the Pro14 League on Saturday.
‘These kinds of games where the [international] lads are away, you have to take your chances. There is no other way to go about it. You have to go out there and give it your best. If you are not giving it your best, you’re missing a chance.
‘Every single game is a chance to put a marker down, to get a step closer to have that jersey.
‘Of course, there is real good competition. The lads there are great players. But, I do back myself.’