Opportunity knocks for Muldoon and Hurley to prove worth to Kidney
Published 17/11/2012 | 05:00
As a youthful crop of Ireland's next 'generation next' seek to shine against Fiji tonight, there are a few players eager to avoid becoming 'generation ex'.
From one-cap wonder Denis Hurley (28) to hooker Sean Cronin, the 26-year-old who has amassed 22 international caps without ever being a first-choice regular for his country or current province, opportunities abound at Thomond Park.
Even John Muldoon, who stresses good-naturedly that he is still 29 and not 30, as reported in some outlets, will be hoping to make a serious enough impression to ensure that, though he may not add to his three-cap haul in today's non-Test, he remains in Declan Kidney's future thoughts.
"Everyone is looking to do well for next week," stresses Muldoon, starting in the unfamiliar position of openside, though he made his Connacht senior debut on this very ground wearing No 7 some nine years ago.
"I'd wear No 10 if I could," he smiles. "I don't think I'd have the skill set to wear the 10 jersey, but it doesn't matter to me. I'm looking forward to the challenge, I've played No 7 a couple of times.
"Obviously the fact that Mike McCarthy did so well last week, it's a bit of a pat on the back for him and a lot of the lads are looking forward to bringing in their provincial form with them.
"I'm no different. I'm looking forward to the challenge. I don't think I'll be picked at 10 though!"
Muldoon may not necessarily be perceived as the future, but should Ireland continue to suffer enforced absenteeism he is one of the players that needs to be prepared for any eventuality.
Likewise, although many locals would prefer to see his Munster rival Felix Jones wearing No 15 this evening, Hurley remains eager to demonstrate that he has more to offer his country than merely one unsatisfactory cameo from the bench against the USA three years ago.
"One of the lads got a blood injury (it was his team-mate today, Darren Cave) and had to come off, so I got 10 minutes," he recalls. "And then I got a 15-minute spell on the wing at the end of the game.
"This time last season I was still a winger, as such, in Munster and it was only just last year that I got an opportunity to play No 15 again.
"I've kind of settled into the position since a lot better. Irish rugby is in a good spot in that it's quite competitive across the back three positions and across the board, really.
"But it's club first and sure after that, if you're not in the side you're not going to be in the window and that's where the opportunities arise."
Kidney has form with Hurley; four years ago the then Munster coach surprised many by springing his fellow Corkonian for a Heineken Cup debut in the cauldron of a Kingsholm quarter-final against Gloucester.
"I've known him a long time," Hurley notes. "He was the head coach when I first made it into the Academy. Whether it helps, I don't know, because he knows my good points and my bad points. ButI'm getting the chance now.
"We would still talk about where I can improve. It's important as a professional player if you want to play for your country that your coach can talk to you straight and that I can ask questions that are pertinent to my own progression as a rugby player.
"He's good to give feedback, that's important for me. Other players mightn't be the same, but I'd prefer someone to tell me the way things are, rather than trying to second guess. That helps me, so at least I can put things in perspective and work away on whatever I have to work with."
Fighting for his club jersey remains equally important, though, a theme picked up on by Cronin who, after wrestling with Richardt Strauss for Leinster blue, now finds himself grappling with the naturalised hooker for Irish green too.
"I'd like to think it's a healthy rivalry," Cronin admits. "I'm not going to say that we're hugging each other going down the corridors in UCD, but it's healthy. I don't like to give an inch and he doesn't live to give an inch either in training and scrummaging sessions. It can be interesting sometimes.
"It's been good for both players. Last year I thought I was going well, but didn't get the nod for some of the big games.
"That's the kind of thing that spurs you on. I don't think I've gotten up to full speed yet this year because it's been stop-start. That's why I'm really looking forward to this game. It's a big opportunity."