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19th Dec 2023

Caelan Doris on the biggest leadership lesson he took from Johnny Sexton

Patrick McCarry

“Those guys were definitely leaders in our squad, even before they were added to that group.”

During the 2023 Six Nations, Caelan Doris and Hugo Keenan found themselves added to a leadership group, within the senior squad.

The pair joined the likes of Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony, Tadhg Furlong, Garry Ringrose, James Ryan and Iain Henderson, and were the key links between the wider squad, the coaches and the backroom phalanx that now comes with the territory.

Heading into the 2024 Six Nations, Sexton – the longest serving leadership group member, and Ireland captain – is no longer there. Keith Earls, another senior voice, has also retired. Dan Sheehan seems the leading contender to take his place in the group, having become a big and well-spoken presence in the squad.

There is speculation around who will take over from Sexton as Ireland captain for the championship. As it stands, these would be the four leading candidates:

  • Peter O’Mahony
  • James Ryan
  • Garry Ringrose
  • Caelan Doris

Doris, who recently signed an IRFU and Leinster contract extension taking him up to 2027 and another crack at a World Cup, has captaincy experience and ambitions. Still, he tells SportsJOE that he would be happy to follow one of Sexton’s lieutenants into the 2024 Six Nations.

Caelan DorisPictured is Ireland and Leinster back-row, Caelan Doris as he was unveiled as an ambassador for JFW Renewables alongside Gearoid Whelan, MD and Founder and Leo Hogan, Sales Director. (Credit ©INPHO/JFW Renewables/Aisling O’Brien)

Caelan Doris on Ireland captaincy

The IRFU announcing contract deals for Andy Farrell and now Caelan Doris – with others expected in the coming weeks – represents the flipping of a page. The focus has moved from the 2023 World Cup and on to the next 18 months, taking us up to the Lions Tour to Australia.

The captain for the 2024 Six Nations may not necessarily be in for a long haul to the World Cup. The favourite to lead Ireland into their Grand Slam defence is Peter O’Mahony.

Ireland’s last four World Cup captains were Brian O’Driscoll (32), Paul O’Connell (35), Rory Best (37) and Johnny Sexton (38). Having a 37-year-old Peter O’Mahony leading Ireland out, Down Under, would be in keeping with that trend of older captains but Farrell may hope to break that cycle. Ringrose (28) and Ryan (27) are both strong options, yet Farrell may ask O’Mahony to carry the flame and see how things are looking after 2023/24 wraps.

Asked if captaining his country was on his radar, and annual list of goals, Doris tells us:

“It would be a massive honour, although it’s not something I’ve put a whole lot of thought into at this stage. It isn’t one of my goals, for this season anyway.

“We’ve got some, some great leaders there, who would have been under Johnny and helping him quite a bit. So I’m sure one of those guys is going to step up and do a great job. And, like you mentioned, myself and Hugo and another group of lads will be there to support them and help them along the way.

“With any team, you need a group of leaders, not just one official leader. We had that in the past under Johnny and I’m sure we’ll have that again.”

Caelan DorisIreland players, from left, James Lowe, Caelan Doris and Mack Hansen. (Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile)

Learning from one of Ireland’s best

Back in 2018, Caelan Doris captained Ireland U20s at the World Championships. Getting the captaincy nod was a proud moment for the Ballina native, although the tournament itself proved trying.

An Ireland team that had future Test stars such as Dan Sheehan, James Hume, Harry Byrne and Tom O’Toole finished 11th after only winning one of their five matches.

“I captained my senior cup team in school (Blackrock College) and then would have captained Leinster and Ireland U18s, as well, before the U20s. It’s a massive one to captain a team.

“I sort of put a bit of pressure on myself to do a good job. In some ways, as much as it’s an honour, it can be less enjoyable at times. It’s definitely more work, which is more rewarding at times too.

“I’ve been enjoying trying to do it this season a little bit more, without the title. After that experience in 2018, I wasn’t as forthright and not at the forefront, in terms of leading. I’m trying to develop that again over the last number of seasons.”

Having played under the likes of Sexton, Ryan, Ringrose and Rhys Ruddock, Doris pauses for a moment when he is asked for captaincy and leadership examples he has taken with him.

He gravitates towards Sexton’s style of leadership – demanding as much of himself as he does of others. Being a tough leader, but one that can articulate his wants and goals clearly.

“Johnny can be quite an emotional person and forthright with that. It was quite impressive. He’s obviously a very good speaker, as well, and you could see the amount of time he invested into rugby. It really was at the top of his list of priorities – obviously, along with obviously his family and whatnot. He put so much time and so much effort into it, and wanted the best for the team.

“He was always very team-first in his decision making. So there’s quite a few admirable qualities like that, yeah, I would have taken away from him, for sure.”

On Monday, Caelan Doris was out at the IRFU High Performance Centre. It brought back a raft of pre-season World Cup memories.

“It gets you excited to be back in camp. It’s kind of crazy, the Six Nations is only four or five weeks away, already, at this stage.

“It’s definitely going to be exciting, hopefully being back in there, seeing all the lads, being back with them and setting new goals as a team for what we want to achieve. Just looking at the schedule of games we’ve got – Friday night away to France, who obviously would have been quite disappointed with how they went out in the World Cup as well.

“So, yeah, if you can’t get excited for that game, then you’re in the wrong career.”


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