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Cronin urges a final surge

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27 April 2013; Leinster's Sean Cronin with support from team-mates Ian Madigan, left, and Brian O'Driscoll, right. Amlin Challenge Cup Semi-Final 2012/13, Leinster v Biarritz, RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

27 April 2013; Leinster's Sean Cronin with support from team-mates Ian Madigan, left, and Brian O'Driscoll, right. Amlin Challenge Cup Semi-Final 2012/13, Leinster v Biarritz, RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

27 April 2013; Leinster's Sean Cronin with support from team-mates Ian Madigan, left, and Brian O'Driscoll, right. Amlin Challenge Cup Semi-Final 2012/13, Leinster v Biarritz, RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

DAYS like last Saturday are what make sportspeople tick. Full houses, roaring atmospheres, premier opponents, the lure of a final. And, finally, a bit of good weather helped a bit as well!

As Sean Cronin prepared to take to the field he could have been forgiven for taking a momentary glance to the stands and a deep breath. Days like that, he reflected, are why he decided to move east to Leinster two summers ago.

Next week the Limerick-born hooker will turn 27, and the scary thing is that he isn't even close to his prime. With 26 international caps and the half century milestone for Leinster imminent, he is in no mood to slow down. And with silverware to play for, it's enough to make a grown man giddy.

"Last Saturday was one of the biggest games I've played in, in terms of the atmosphere and the fact that we qualified for a home final in our home ground," Cronin revealed ahead of the visit of the Ospreys to the RDS tonight.

"We knew Biarritz were going to throw everything at us because they needed the Amlin (Challenge Cup) to qualify for the Heineken Cup next season. And as the reigning champs, they had a lot of pride in the competition. They had gone over to Gloucester and won quite impressively, so we were cautiously optimistic and focused all week on what they could bring to the party.

"Something that Joe (Schmidt) drills into us is the idea of continuous improvement. We put some good phases together and we were quite clinical at times.

"But even though we were excited about getting to another final, we have a few areas to work on. We're under no illusions as to how good Stade (Français) will be. But that's for a few weeks time. This week we have the Ospreys who are also the reigning holders of the Pro12 and they won't have any fear about coming over to Dublin.

"They're a side filled with Lions players and Welsh internationals and they have been tough opponents for us in recent times. It's gonna be a tough challenge for us."

In some ways, the Ospreys are ideal opponents as there can be no dip in standards when a team of that quality comes to town. Cronin understands the sentiment, but stresses the quest for a home play-off berth is a primary motivation for the squad as they shape up for what will hopefully last for three more weekends after this.

"Look, everyone in our squad is singing off the same hymn sheet. We know that we're at the business end of the campaign and we know that if we want to go on and lift some silverware at the end of the season we can afford to give nothing less than 100 per cent.

"The competition in the squad is such that any player can come in and do a job. Look at my own position; Straussy (Richardt Strauss) has been in good form recently while Aaron (Dundon) was excellent for the 'A' team in the B&I Cup semi-final.

"I think we all get a buzz off that (competition). On the one hand there's a lot of pressure every day in training and every time you pull on the shirt. And on the other, you nearly want that pressure because it tends to get the best out of you. It's a good, healthy environment to be in."

Having recently signed a new two-year extension to his contract, his immediate future lies in his adopted province and he was delighted to commit after playing a part in last year's Heineken Cup success.

"I'm pleased with life here", he says. "I haven't regretted my move for one moment and we've a competitive squad, which is important. I feel as though I'm learning new things every day and as long as I can keep progressing I'll be delighted to stay here and contribute."

After his spell with Connacht, Cronin has moved slightly farther away from his hometown of Monaleen, Co Limerick.

"My mother's giving me awful stick about not being home," he grins knowing that this is what most Irish mothers will universally accuse their offspring of. "I'm the eldest of four children, all boys, and the brothers think that they're ruling the roost back home. So maybe I'll have to head home a bit more frequently and keep them in check, you know? Show them who's boss!

"My family have always been really proud of my career and achievements in the game. Limerick is a real hotbed of rugby. People are so passionate about the game and that was something that resonated with me growing up.

"And although my family are living in Munster, they want to see me do well. They're great supporters and I wouldn't be where I am today without them."

Thoughts will soon turn to summer tours and down time. After a long year, you might think that Cronin will be glad of a rest.

"I've no holidays planned at the moment. Maybe just down to see friends and family."

There's work to be done first alright – and Cronin, like his team-mates, is ready to step it up.


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