Forwards Dave Heffernan, Danny Qualter, JP Cooney and back Shane O'Leary have become the latest players to sign new one-year contract extensions with Connacht Rugby and the IRFU.

Their signatures bring to 18 the number of current players who have committed their futures to the province for next season.

Mayo-born Dave Heffernan is a graduate of the Connacht academy and was last week named in the Emerging Ireland squad for the upcoming summer tour to Tbilisi having played internationally at under-20 level.

The former back rower, who switched to hooker less than two years ago, made his senior debut in March 2012 against the Scarlets. The 24-year-old has since played 32 times for his home province.

Heffernan's fellow Buccaneers team-mate and academy graduate Danny Qualter has also put pen to paper on a new deal with Connacht. The Athlone-born lock has represented Ireland at U18, youth schools, U19, and U20s and with competition at lock very high this season, the 23-year-old made three appearances in the European Challenge Cup this season.

25-year-old Connacht prop JP Cooney will continue his progression under Pat Lam next season having honed his scrummaging skills under outgoing assistant coach Dan McFarland since his arrival to the province in 2012.

The Garryowen club man marked his 20th appearance for Connacht on Sunday at Kingsholm against Gloucester.

Meanwhile, the backs have been boosted by the extension of Shane O'Leary's stay. The Munster man, who can play at centre or out-half, signed from Grenoble last summer and scored tries at Thomond Park and away to Zebre in two of his five appearances. 

Head coach Pat Lam said of the extensions: "We're delighted to be confirming our updated squad for next season. Recruitment is ongoing but it's important to hold on to young players like these who have demonstrated that they have the talent and the desire to succeed in a professional set up.

"Dave, in particular, has had a season of huge growth and through his hard work, and the experience he's gained in high-pressure games as a young and novice hooker, he has deservedly earned himself a place in the Emerging Ireland squad and we're delighted for him."