'Big offers' turned James Cronin's head but his heart is at home
Published 04/02/2016 | 02:30
James Cronin doesn't yet know when, or where, or even how, the realisation is going to thump him in the solar plexus but it is inevitable. He knows it's coming.
It could be when he strides into the Aviva Stadium for Rory Best's first official Captain's Run on Saturday. Perhaps the wakeful hours that night as he contemplates what lies ahead.
Maybe when he sees his family in the Shelbourne Hotel wishing him luck as he boards the coach on Sunday for the short hop from Dublin 2 to 4; or the smiles of the Ballincollig bunch who will travel in good spirits for this auspicious day.
He may not start; a decent punt could earn you money but the odds favour the other fit loosehead, Jack McGrath, but, when he does strip off his tracksuit in earnest, he will stride upon Irish sod for the first time in an international.
His debut in Tucuman two years ago was so special; so too, his debut championship bow 12 months ago at Stadio Olimpico (the dénouement, a tournament-ending knee injury, less so).
This will feel different. Because he is home. And, notwithstanding the predictable farrago of his role in the tiring transfer talk of late, this is where he wants to be. Home. Of Munster and of Ireland. In Munster and in Ireland.
"One hundred per cent," he replies, when you ask him if his commitment to stay in Ireland was predicated upon a sense of business yearning to be completed.
"But I also want to do well for Munster. Obviously the season hasn't gone the way we'd have liked it to but we have massive belief in the players we have.
"Conor Murray, Simon Zebo and Keith Earls staying shows that we always believed. We can create an environment. We know the talent is coming through even though ye don't believe it. We can be back on the up."
Nothing like a bit of Munster chippiness to infuse an Ireland squad with some bite.
In his defence, Cronin has admitted before that his province's form has been less than hectic - he scarcely needs reminding that neither pundits nor punters pull on the jersey.
Cronin's presence in a squad who have mis-fired in successive seasons did not damage his credentials; nor indeed, the aforementioned injury which ultimately thieved him of the form required to make the World Cup squad.
And yet, just when it seemed that the breathless bush telegraph had whisked him away from his Ballincollig bosom to a new life in London Irish - or, indeed, beyond for all we knew - news emerged that he had re-signed for Munster.
"Well I was in talks with other clubs," reveals Cronin, despite being lucklessly injured, again, in the festive derby against Leinster although he had already demonstrated formidable form against Leicester tight-head Dan Cole, just one in a series of impressive displays this term.
"Munster got back to me the day they found out I was in talks and put a good offer on the table. I was happy then so I took it.
"If there's big offers out there then you're going to have a look. It's natural. Nowadays players are getting offers from France, England. . . big offers. You want to play at home but these offers are going to turn your head."
It felt flattering to be in demand from abroad; but not half as affirming to feel the same desire from his home place.
"If you're playing well in any sport you're going to be wanted," the 25-year-old says. "Luckily for me I was wanted at home."
While Cronin's professional life occupied the public's attention for merely 24 hours, the team-mates he just mentioned endured interminable delays until securing their futures.
Asked if he would prefer everything to be sorted out in the summer, away from the searing spotlight of social media intrigue and supporter speculation, he is necessarily coy.
"It's very hard," he explains. "You could fall out of form and you're not worth half as much as you were during the summer time. A fella might have a great summer and a bad winter. Players understand that and just deal with it."
Rueful Cronin knows this only so well. From the knee injury that scuppered his impressive Stadio Olimpico stint this time last year, he featured just twice for Munster before season's close.
Hardly fitting preparation for a personal quasi-World Cup trial - the Emerging Ireland Tbilisi Cup campaign where, in a broiling 34 degree sauna, ten minutes of rugby in two months proved hopelessly inadequate preparation.
The winding road has led him to here.
"From the get-go, when I got selected for that Argentinian tour, it has always been my goal to play for Ireland. It hasn't gone the way I wanted. Injury, form, other things haven't allowed it.
"This is all new to me, playing at home. It's exciting."
Now he is ready for a second coming. He is ready for anything. And he wants to be number one.