| 12.3°C Dublin

Seán's back on his turf


Leinster's Sean Cronin. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Sean Cronin. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Sean Cronin. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

IT will be a return of sorts for Seán Cronin tomorrow night in his hometown of Limerick. It is not a new path which the Ireland hooker is taking, but it is one that still touches the senses.

Speaking to him earlier this week, you get the sense that he is a man on a mission. Call it the chance to impress the locals, or the chance to show his progress. Call it what you will. Cronin is focused and harbours a clear intent.

The team comes before the individual and the process in which the group will take part will, he hopes, bear fruit at the business end of the game. For in this game, like so many others, points mean prizes.

"It's always special to play down in Limerick", the 27-year-old revealed ahead of the visit to Thomond Park tomorrow evening.

"You always want to impress on the big stages and a packed Thomond Park is one of the biggest challenges you can face in club rugby. It's a great rugby town and the ground is a real focal point of the community.



"At that same time, I'd be lying if I said I won't be nervous! Of course you are and you aren't human if they don't get you at some point. For some players those nerves are there when you wake up in the morning. For others, it might be on the bus on the approach to the city or from the team hotel to the ground 90 minutes or so before the butterflies come.

"Personally that's usually when I begin to relax and start focusing in on my specific jobs and goals for the game.

"It's a great feeling being on the bus and you know the kick-off is close. That's when you know the game is close."

When the interprovincials come along, it can temporarily divide families. You enquire where family loyalties will lie and Cronin meets the question with a grin.

"My close family and those in the inner circle are fully-fledged Leinster supporters at this stage, but I'd say there will be a few aunts and uncles who will want me to play well, but will be cheering on a Munster win! It's good fun because like any family rivalry, you want to get one over the other.

"Playing in Thomond Park with Leinster is different to when I played with Connacht. When I was younger I was a lot more nervous because it was surreal coming up against the team I grew up playing for. But when the whistle blows, any sentimental feelings go out the door. It's an attritional battle and you have to try and use the emotion of the occasion to your benefit and not let it affect your performance.

"There's no give and take in this game. If you emerge on the winning side you know that you'll have it done it the hard way with a lot of effort. I'm hoping to have the bragging rights over Christmas dinner!"

Cronin believes that the return of several front-line players in recent weeks has galvanised the squad ahead of a massive few weeks.

"Absolutely", he agrees when reflecting on the bonus point victory over the Cardiff Blues last weekend. "They're classy players and while you don't expect them to hit their stride straight off, they seemed to fit in seamlessly.

"I thought we looked sharp at times against Cardiff, but we were sloppy too and we let them sneak back in near the end. We know that we can't allow our attitude to slip (against Munster) because they'll be gunning for us in their home ground.

"They look really settled this year and they had a good win against the Dragons last weekend in Musgrave. Peter O'Mahony is a real leader for them and they've Paulie (O'Connell) back now too so it's going to be tough."

Saturday's derby comes at an interesting time in Cronin's professional life.

With the departures of the likes of Heinke van der Merwe on Leinster's side and Marcus Horan and John Hayes in Munster, it seems that almost overnight, the 27-year-old has become one of the elder statesmen in the front row. Cronin believes that the investment in youth made by both provinces in recent weeks can bear fruit for the provincial and national teams for years to come.

"Aside from Rossy (Mike Ross) on our side and Damien (Varley) in Munster, the rest of the front-rowers are quite young. Munster have the likes of Stephen Archer, James Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne and John Ryan, who are four talented young props. Mike Sheery has picked up a lot of experience and has been really consistent for them when he's gotten a chance.

"From our point of view, I have been hugely impressed by the strides the likes of Jack (McGrath) and Martin Moore have made. And there are a few more guys trying to break through like Jack O'Connell and Tadhg Furlong who are knocking on the door in training. It's great to see and it'll be exciting to see how these fellas progress."

Cronin showed last weekend a keen eye once more for the try-line as he cleared the human hurdle that was Leigh Halfpenny on his way to scoring his 11th try in 53 appearances.

It highlighted, once more, the massive contribution he makes in the attacking aspect of the game.

He prides himself on his work-rate around the park; on helping the team out and in never giving up.

Thrown into the bear-pit of an interpro' derby, he knows that this is the territory where heroes are made.