The Making Of… Dan Sheehan

Dan (centre front) and Bobby (right) at Bective Rangers 2000
There are countless examples of Guinness Six Nations players who appeared destined to play international rugby almost from the moment they could walk.

There are countless examples of Guinness Six Nations players who appeared destined to play international rugby almost from the moment they could walk.

Yet despite being one of the breakout stars of the side currently ranked top of the world, Dan Sheehan is not among them.

The Ireland hooker has taken a road less travelled to his current spot in the iconic green No.2 jersey sported by legends such as Keith Wood and Rory Best before him.

From Bective Rangers to Bucharest and the school second XV to the Six Nations, this is story of Ireland’s Grand Slam hero by those who have helped him along the way…


Born in Dublin, Sheehan began his rugby journey at the age of five – around the time he rubbed shoulders (and matched haircuts) with all-time great Jonah Lomu – at one of Ireland’s oldest clubs.

Bective Rangers, established in 1881, counts Johnny Sexton and Ronan Kelleher among those who have come through their Minis section and coach Johnny Vaughan fondly recalls seeing a young Sheehan displaying his promise.

“He just stood out,” Vaughan said. “He had light feet, a good sidestep and he was big for his age, even then.

“You would give Dan the ball and he would score nine times out of 10 – you were almost guaranteed a try. He was a strong tackler when that came in, too.

“He always took it seriously, even at that age, and he never had a smile on his face. We had to try and cheer him up!”

Sheehan would attend those training sessions with his younger brother, Bobby, the pair brought along by parents Barry and Sinead.

“Dan always liked rough and tumble,” Barry recalled.

“Himself and Bobby would knock lumps out of each other in the garden, so to find 20 or 30 other lads who were up for it was great for them.

“There was a really nice community there of encouraging coaches who were focused on the lads enjoying it.”

The feeling was mutual, with Vaughan adding: “I loved getting up on a Sunday morning and going down to coach those guys. They were a dream to coach.”


When Sheehan was nine, Barry’s job took the family to Bucharest for three years, with Dan and Bobby attending the American International School in the Romanian capital.

With no rugby on the curriculum, Sheehan was forced to adapt but he did not let that stop him excelling in the sporting sphere and he was soon named the school’s Athlete of the Year.

“That was unusual for someone of Dan’s age,” said Scott Hibbard, the school’s Athletics (Sport) Director at the time.

“That award normally would have gone to an eighth-grader and Dan was in seventh grade, but it just goes to show the impression he made.

“He played soccer, softball, he swum to a strong level. He was just a really strong sportsman who could turn his hand to pretty much anything.

“It is great for the school to see what Dan has gone on to do. A few guys went on to play College basketball in the USA, one played internationally for Romania, but there is nothing to compare to Dan playing in the Six Nations.”

While his versatility proved an asset, there was little doubt as to which sport remained Dan’s number one and he took every opportunity to hone the skills which now make him the most modern of hookers who would not look out of place in the backline.

“There were limited club opportunities for youngsters but Dan and Bobby spent the whole time throwing a rugby ball in the garden,” Barry said.

“That’s where they learned their handling skills, and the range of sports Dan played were very good for developing different parts of him.”


Sheehan’s parents continued their European adventure post-Romania, moving to Poland, but Dan and Bobby returned to Ireland to board at Clongowes Wood College.

Tadhg Beirne, Rob Kearney and Gordon D’Arcy are all former pupils but any thoughts Sheehan would follow them into the green jersey were a long way off when he arrived.

“With respect to Dan, he wasn’t an all-star at that stage, not like he is now,” said Matthew Wright, Clongowes’ Senior Cup Team (SCT) head coach.

“We have three years of rugby at the senior end of the school and he started off in the second squad, but he embraced the challenge.

“He moved through the ranks and was definitely one of the better players in our senior cup team (SCT) in sixth year, when we reached the semi-final.

“Dan was very diligent and a pleasure to coach. I remember one video analysis session when, due to how the clips came out, there were three clips in a row where Dan’s breakdown work was quite shoddy.

“I felt quite guilty and I spoke to him that evening to check everything was alright. There were no problems, which was a mark of his character. He took on board what coaches had to say and he wanted to get better.”

When Wright watches Sheehan shining on international duty these days, he can’t stop his mind being cast back to trademark moves on the school fields.

“I have abiding memories of a lineout play where we would peel round the back and he was the guy who would be coming around the corner down the channel,” he said.

“It wouldn’t be a pretty sight if you were the defender he was running at!

“It’s so refreshing to have guys who go on the journey he has and Dan is a great example for guys who start in the second team now.

“He is a lovely, humble fella and he still takes the time out to come and work with our young hookers.”


Despite Sheehan’s steady progress at Clongowes, representative honours eluded him until later in his journey.

His time at Trinity College, working under head coach Tony Smeeth and strength and conditioning guru Hugh McGuire, was particularly valuable, with the All-Ireland League experience he gained both there and at Lansdowne proving a perfect stepping stone in what Barry describes as his son’s ‘breakthrough years’.

He was soon part of age-group set-ups with Leinster and Ireland – though, like so many such stories, Sheehan needed a touch of fortune mixed in with his undoubted hard work to help him along the way.

Having originally been Ireland’s fifth choice hooker for the 2018 Under-20 World Cup, injuries opened the door for his inclusion and he gained vital international experience before what appeared to be a setback ended up working in his favour.

“Dan broke his ankle against Japan in that World Cup but, because of that, Leinster kept him on to rehab him,” Barry said.

“He had no professional contract at that point but he stayed in that environment, unpaid and uncontracted, for six months.

“He was the only one in the building not getting paid but he was so determined to make an impression. As part of his rehab, he became involved with training at Leinster and he kicked on from there.”


At that stage, in Barry’s words, Kelleher was ‘miles ahead’ of Sheehan but the latter has edged ahead of his long-term rival and good friend at the start of what could be a defining year.

Barry and Sinead plan to be at every game as Ireland target World Cup glory to go with their Guinness Six Nations triumph, while Sheehan’s progress is an understandable source of pride to those who have played a part along the way.

“I may have only coached him for a couple of years, and a long time ago, but they were brilliant years,” Vaughan said.

“Looking at him now, playing for Ireland, I am just taken aback by it all. Bective are very proud of all our players and Dan still comes back to present medals to the youngsters coming through now.

“The way he is going, he will definitely win a lot more caps and I think he will play for the British & Irish Lions.”

Vaughan is not the only one to see limitless potential in the 24-year-old, whose father cannot wait to see what lies ahead.

“I’ve noticed a huge change in his authority on the pitch,” he said.

“He is a quiet, unassuming guy off the field but flourishes when he crosses that white line. That’s when he is at his most confident.

“He has a lot more to give, as do this Ireland team. They are trying to find out where the ceiling is and they keep pushing it up.

“What can he go on to achieve? Dan could be anything he wants to be.”