Saturday 1 October 2016

Felix Jones still readjusting to the reality of retirement

Published 02/02/2016 | 02:30

Former Ireland and Munster full-back Felix Jones at the announcement of Electric Ireland’s support for the U-20 Six Nations Home Games. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Former Ireland and Munster full-back Felix Jones at the announcement of Electric Ireland’s support for the U-20 Six Nations Home Games. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Felix Jones has done his fair share of media duties down through his years but yesterday as he spoke publicly for the first time since being forced into early retirement last October, there was at times a spiky undertone that hadn't been seen in previous meetings.

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Having your career cut short at just 28 is cruel in the extreme and the void that Jones has left behind him, particularly in terms of his leadership qualities, is something that Munster have so far struggled to cope with.

The full-back was overlooked by Joe Schmidt for the World Cup but the feeling was that he was close to making the cut. Instead, the Dublin native returned to Munster where he was named club captain during the tournament.

Come October, though, a neck injury picked up in the Pro12 meeting with Glasgow was deemed serious enough for him to be forced to call it a day.

It was cruel luck on a player who had become a crowd favourite since moving south from Leinster in 2009; given his previous history with neck injuries, he had no choice but to take on board the medical specialist's recommendation.

In 2009, Jones was stretchered off in a neck brace after a tackle, and ended up being out for almost a year.

Setback

The latest setback in October was not a recurrence of the old problem but Jones was unable to relay what the difference between the two injuries actually was.

"I'm not a doctor," came his response to how the two injuries compared.

"I can't go into the specifics. It was separate - two different types of injury. The one previous was at a different level.

"I didn't (immediately) know the extent of it. I knew it was a heavy collision, even by my standards.

"It was a fairly quick process which made it pretty shocking. Mentally you don't think like that. You think it's going to be like all the other ones.

"Of course it's not easy. But that's why you've got experts advising you in these things and they are looking after your welfare, so you trust an expert."

Such is how highly he is regarded by Munster, Jones has remained in and around the squad and although he doesn't have a defined role, he is involved as part of undertaking a masters degree in sports psychology.

Given that he is no longer part of the playing squad and is therefore absolved of the criticisms that have been aimed at Munster this season, his bemusement to a reporter's question on said subject was utterly bizarre.

"Which criticisms?" he said confusedly.

Well, take what Alan Quinlan said after another failed European campaign. Are Munster falling further behind the rest of Europe?

"How do you mean? No Irish team has qualified for Europe this year," came the reply with a blank expression.

It's the second year in a row that Munster haven't gotten out of their pool in Europe. Is that something we have to get used to and accept?

"What do you mean by getting used to it?"

Will this become a normal thing with Munster every year?

"Of course it's not. Nobody wants to accept being knocked out of Europe," he said.

"The criticism is because people are frustrated and they want Irish teams. . . and Quinny played for Munster, so he wants Munster to succeed.

"It's obviously frustrating because players want to be better, coaches want them to be better and the fans want them to be better.

"Criticism is always going to be there when a team doesn't perform to a level that's expected of them. But to say it's going to be a normal thing that Munster don't qualify for Europe is. . . I don't know. I don't really get you.

Where are Munster right now?

"They're in a tough place in terms of consistency," said Jones.

"We lost a lot of guys over the last couple of years and it's frustrating because a lot of them know what they themselves and the team around them are capable of doing and they're not doing it consistently.

"But having said that, this is how you build resilience.

"No team, no player is born being perfect time and time again. You have to have failure to progress."

Munster are currently without three different captains that they have named this season: Peter O'Mahony is out injured, CJ Stander is on international duty, Jones is retired - and that's not to mention the irreplaceable void that Paul O'Connell has left.

"There's a small vacuum there, but there's no time to use that excuse," Jones maintained.

"It just has to be filled and guys are stepping up down there. There are plenty of leaders, look at guys like Billy (Holland), CJ (Stander), (Keith) Earlsy, Conor (Murray).

"You guys don't see it everyday. I'm not in there every day, but I know all those people and they are leaders."

Felix Jones was speaking at the launch of Electric Ireland's sponsorship of the U-20s Six Nations home games.

Irish Independent

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