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Emerging talent and strength in depth will help Leinster end title drought, maintains Cullen

 

By Cian Tracey

There was more than a hint of irony to Leinster holding their first press briefing of the new season in the same room that their once regularly topped up trophy cabinet now gathers dust.

By the time Leinster get a chance to add to their impressive collection next May, it will be four years since they won silverware, and ultimately for a club with such high expectations, that is not good enough.

No-one inside of the four walls of their UCD headquarters needs to be reminded of their barren spell but, as Leo Cullen took his seat next to the cabinet, you couldn't blame him for casting a knowing glance at some of the trophies that he lifted as Blues captain.

The transition to winning them as head coach has proven to be problematic, but given Leinster's recruitment and their ability to keep Stuart Lancaster at the club, midfield injuries aside, they are in a good position heading into the start of the new Guinness PRO14 campaign.

"There is definitely a more optimistic mood around than there was this time last year, I think that's clear," Cullen admitted.

"There was a lot of doom and gloom at the end of last season. If you think back to the European campaign, and the PRO12 teams in general, people were wondering if the other teams were going to take over.

"There are a lot of young guys putting their hands up now which is fantastic.

"We needed to build depth, that's something we were very conscious of a few years ago, going back to that Bath game in Europe where a lot of guys got their European debuts.

"We need to create competition if we're going to produce a lot of players to play for Ireland. When they're not here, there are still points up for grabs.

"Just look back at how many games those senior Irish internationals played out of the 22 PRO12 games.

"You are talking five or six out of 22 last year. That is a strength in many ways but it can be a big weakness as well."

The pain of two semi-final defeats still irks Cullen and his players - who kick off their campaign against the Dragons on Saturday - and while they are eager to move on from that, at the same time it will add fuel to their fire.

For all of the quality in Leinster's ranks, there is a new breed of player, such as Tadhg Furlong and Garry Ringrose, who have yet to taste success as professionals.

Fergus McFadden first broke into the Leinster set-up in the midst of the good times. He and the more experienced players are determined to help bridge that gap between the different generations.

"At the start when I came in, Leinster were a real underachieving team - ultra-talented but they just weren't producing the goods," McFadden recalled.

"When I came into the squad, trophies started coming thick and fast and all everyone knew was winning.

"We were lucky enough at that time but there have been changes in personnel and the squad, and age demographics changing.

"There are a lot of young guys coming through who are talented and are taking over the mantle.

"There's been a couple of seasons without trophies, and that's been really difficult, particularly after coming off the back of that successful period.

"So we're aware of that, but we're not focusing on it either. At the end of the day this season is a fresh one. Last year you can look at Europe and the PRO12 as two titles that got away from us.

"It's about prepping yourself to peak at those really important knockout stages, maybe that's something we'll have to focus on more this year."

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