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Seán's fight for survival

THE name Des Harty might not register all that prominently on Leinster supporters' Richter scale, but the Limerick man has made an indelible mark nonetheless on one of the squad members who is making steady progress since his recent move east.

For it was in the winter of 2002 when he took a 15-year-old Seán Cronin aside at an afternoon's pitch session in Ardscoil Rís and suggested he move positions from full-back to the front row.

The conversation which might have prompted a puzzled initial look from Cronin planted a seed which grew from that day on.

"I remember thinking that it was a bit strange at the time", Cronin reflects with a smile. "But Des and the other coaches in school as well as the coaches in my first club Richmond RFC reckoned that I could combine the pace I had into an effective ball-carrying forward, provided I learned and kept working on the basic skills such as scrummaging, throwing the ball into the lineout and things like that.

"So, I'm thankful now for their advice and foresight because I'm here now playing with Leinster and I'm loving life here."

Not wanting to miss an opportunity, he adds with a mischievous grin: "And it's great that I can still give (room-mate) Fionn (Carr) a few pointers and pass on a bit of my expertise of the back three because I know he appreciates it!"

Ten years have passed from that fateful day and the rest, as they say, is history.

It's interesting to note that Cronin's career has been punctuated by positive impact from teachers; most notably Leinster coach Joe Schmidt (an English teacher) as well as Ireland coach Declan Kidney (a teacher of maths and career guidance).



SALVAGE

Cronin has gone from strength to strength, representing three of Ireland's provinces at different times as well as the nation a total of 15 times and counting, hopefully.

Just under a fortnight ago he made his first appearance in the Heineken Cup and followed it up with a debut try in an impressive second-half cameo to help salvage a draw in a cauldron of an atmosphere in Montpellier.

He backed that up last weekend with a start in the bonus-point victory over Glasgow Warriors, and over the coming weeks the battles for the No2 jersey between himself and Richardt Strauss, Aaron Dundon and Tom Sexton will make for a fascinating competitive sub-plot, one of many across the squad right now.

"I have never known competition like it," he says. "Straussy was fantastic all last year and he has begun this season strongly and then you have the likes of Aaron and Tom who are also performing to a high level in the B&I (British & Irish) Cup.

"So there are four of us battling for one position. You get great confidence when your name is called out at the selection meeting, but the realisation is there that you have to perform well or else you're going to lose your place. You can never be complacent.

"When I found out I was selected in the Montpellier squad I began to programme myself to try and make an impact off the bench at any stage.

"And when you know you're starting you focus on your role for the team and build up appropriately.

"It was really exciting in the build up to the Glasgow game when I found out I was going to start.

"It was going to be not just my home debut in the RDS but also my first start in the Heineken Cup.

"It was really special to take to the field in the RDS, but our form dipped in the second half.

"Joe does a good job in keeping our feet on the ground. We know that we have to play for 80 minutes."

And what of tomorrow afternoon's opponents, Benetton Treviso?

"They're one of the most improved sides in the league and they took that form into Europe last weekend against the Ospreys, when they could have won the game.

"They're an extremely difficult side to play against. They have a big and physical pack, a strong set of backs and they're good defensively.

"We're in the middle of a huge period in the season with a run of 13 straight games and they're all big games. We have a strong squad and we're all going to have to play a part to continue our run.

"And when you're given a chance to wear that jersey on your back you have to take it."


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