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'I was barely awake when I got the phone call' - How Nick Timoney went from Sunday lie-in to the Aviva Stadium


Nick Timoney is tackled by Matias Moroni, left, and Nicolas Sanchez. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Nick Timoney is tackled by Matias Moroni, left, and Nicolas Sanchez. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Nick Timoney is tackled by Matias Moroni, left, and Nicolas Sanchez. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Ulster back row Nick Timoney read the message from his friend in an M1 service station queuing for a protein bar and a croissant. Heading south.

He smiled to himself.

“What’s the craic with the match today?”

David O’Connor had sent him the message hours ago. They’d watched France destroy the All Blacks and another day watching rugby beckoned.

Timoney meant to reply. Except, well, he just didn’t have time.

Instead of watching the match on TV, he would be watching in the stadium. How good was that? He’d text David later.

First, he had to answer Ireland’s Call.

“I was pretty much half asleep. I had just woken up and was thinking about having a nice lie-in, it didn't quite pan out that way but I'm glad now that I had the phone on vibrate.”

It could have been a prank. He’d never spoken to Andy Farrell, but it’s pretty easy to do an impression of the broad Lancashire voice.

“We need you, Nick!”

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Except he’d asked Tom O’Toole to whip the number from a WhatsApp group a few weeks back. The name matched the number, so it must be the voice.

Jack Conan had been named to start at number eight against Argentina but suffered a quad strain in Saturday’s captain’s run.

No big panic for Andy Farrell, it seemed; he hesitated but decided yesterday morning at breakfast that wider counsel would be to haul Timoney into the camp.

Just in case.

Tadhg Beirne could cover the back-row; Peter O’Mahony scouted all back-row positions too, just to be sure as Timoney helped out.

But then Iain Henderson was scratched. Suddenly, it was break the emergency glass time.

And so, from the couch to the warm-up to the bench and, for 20 glorious minutes, a rousing stint, including a turnover with his first action of the day.

Watching back in Belfast, O’Connor might have replaced “What the craic?” with “WTF?”

“It was a bit crazy alright,” said the 26-year-old Blackrock old boy.

“I was barely awake when I got a phone call off Faz this morning. I sort of just got my stuff packed up and hit the road straight away to come down.

“That was a bit of an experience in itself and then for Hendy to go down in the warm-up and me sort of realise I was going to be on the bench and then get a nice chunk of time was a bit of a whirlwind. It was an unbelievable day, it seemed like a crazy turn of events from my point of view but I guess I loved it so it was a good day.

“I got home after training on Thursday thinking that was it for the November Series and I was feeling a little bit disappointed and stuff but to get the call this morning and have it all kick off again all of a sudden was a pretty good feeling.”

He might have been forgiven for breaking the speed limit but patience has served him well so far, since leaving Leinster, now thriving up north, a late bloomer.

“I got down as quick as I could. I actually thought I had more time than I did but I left all my gear on Thursday in my parents’ house so I didn’t have anything to pack so I was sort of in a bit of a rush so I just got down as quick as I could.

“Luckily there was no traffic it being a Sunday morning so I got down quick enough, packed up my stuff, headed straight for The Shelbourne and met up with the lads and went from there. Whatever happened then happened.

“No, I wasn’t breaking any speed limits. I knew I had a good bit of time but I just sort of made sure I didn’t waste any time mucking around.

“I knew where all of my stuff was and made sure I wasn’t going to be missing anything and I just got on the road.

“Luckily, I didn’t seem to miss anything too drastic, managed to somewhat pull it together and get on the pitch.”

He did that and more, an illustration of the seamless nature of this Irish side, hampered by natural changes and then handicapped by sudden ones.

“I didn’t think I would be doing anything other than the warm-up. So I was pretty relaxed and then I saw Hendy maybe holding his hamstring a bit at the end of the warm-up and I said to Ryan Baird, ‘Here maybe get ready because it looks like Hendy has pulled up with something.’

“And he was like ‘I think you should maybe start getting ready as well because you’re going to be on the bench’ so I was there ‘Yeah, actually, that’s a pretty good point!”

Henderson was due to start in the second row only to suffer a hamstring injury during the warm-up at the Aviva Stadium.

Those injuries meant Peter O’Mahony came into the back row, with Caelan Doris moving to number eight, while Tadhg Beirne started in the second row and called Ireland’s lineouts.

There was a further blow just before half time as captain James Ryan was forced off with a head injury, meaning Ryan Baird – who was called onto the bench after Henderson’s injury – was sprung onto action earlier than expected.

“It’s great we could do it like this. I only found out just before kick-off that I'd be playing.

"As soon as that happened I had Jack Conan, Tadhg Beirne, Paul O'Connell and all those lads saying, 'listen, we understand you mightn't have everything in your head because you weren't expecting this'.

"But the first 10, 15 minutes of the game I was just sitting with Jack, he was just talking to me. It was stuff that you know but we were just running through it, just having that calm voice there talking you through stuff was unreal.

"From my point of view it was an unbelievable day to have a group like that to help you out.”

His friend will forgive him.

"He obviously realised at some point that I wasn't responding to him! He was probably annoyed for a few minutes before realising what happened.”

Especially when he saw his good buddy winning his second cap.

Some craic.

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