Monday 16 September 2019

Hanrahan hopes long game will reap Ireland reward

By his own admission, he hasn't gotten the best out of himself at Northampton and an ankle injury has denied him the chance to achieve his potential this season. Photo: Getty
By his own admission, he hasn't gotten the best out of himself at Northampton and an ankle injury has denied him the chance to achieve his potential this season. Photo: Getty
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Jj Hanrahan has come to accept the terms of his exile and knows that as long as he plies his trade in England he won't get an Irish cap.

One by one, his U-20 team from 2012 have become regulars under Joe Schmidt. From the side that beat South Africa in Stellenbosch, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson and Kieran Marmion all played against Australia last month as a new team begins to take shape.

The star of that side was the precocious out-half from Kerry who seemed destined to become the next man from the Kingdom to join an elite club. He even comes from Currow.

Four years on, he's been overtaken even in that regard by a second-row from Tralee that he once handed out medals to as an U-16 - Ultan Dillane.

Moving to Northampton Saints in 2015 came with that risk and so it has proved. He played for Emerging Ireland the summer he transferred from Munster, but since the call from the IRFU has not come.

"A couple of years back I would have always looked at it (Ireland games) saying, 'They're doing this, why amn't I there?' I'd have taken it personally and pointed fingers at other people," he said.

"Now, I just think everyone has a different role, everyone has different luck you know?"

Yet, the 24-year-old has time on his side and insists he is putting in this time for a future reward.

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"I knew coming over to Northampton that I was going to kind of rule myself out of selection," he said. "But there's a longer-term plan in my own head that I'm trying to work towards and hopefully it comes to fruition later on in life.

"I've openly said before that I want to play for Ireland, but you have to get to that standard first and you have to be consistent.

Misconstrued

"I've mentioned stuff about Ireland before and it's been misconstrued. What I'm trying to do is become the best player I can be, so that if the Irish opportunity ever opens up in the future that then I'm able to take it with both hands. That's not to say I should be there now, but if it ever opens up I want to be ready to do that.

"Playing in the Premiership against quality opposition every week, even like Leinster back-to-back in the European Cup, allows you to grow, get better and learn from your mistakes. To get new experiences, it's all part of getting to that international standard."

Hanrahan's contract is up this summer and there is no doubt that Munster will try and lure him home. Talented 24-year-olds with his range of abilities don't grow on trees, so when you grow one of your own you don't want to see them operating in a black, green and yellow jersey.

On Friday, he'll get a chance to put himself in the shop window after a frustrating couple of months.

By his own admission, he hasn't gotten the best out of himself at Northampton and an ankle injury has denied him the chance to achieve his potential this season. Last weekend's defeat to Leicester was his first appearance of the season, he's hoping to play against Leinster on Friday night and then feature at the Aviva Stadium for the return.

It gives him a chance to issue a timely reminder of what he can do. "Nothing's been decided to be honest," he said of his future. "It's all up in the air at the moment but usually these things come around in January or a little bit after but I just have to get back playing first before I'm in a position to do anything like that."

From the outside looking in, a move home makes sense but for Hanrahan there is unfinished business as he looks to prove himself at his adopted home.

"No, it hasn't; being frank," he replied when asked if the Northampton experience had matched his expectations.

"I had a very staggered season last year, very stop-start in terms of performance-wise but there's definitely more to come from me and I can definitely add a lot more to this team.

"I was flying in pre-season, I'd one of the best pre-seasons I'd ever had and then to pick up an injury 20 minutes out before the season was pretty disheartening. But, you have to just pick yourself up and go again.

"I'm buzzing to go again and there's plenty of rugby to go in the season.

"I definitely have a lot of ambitions to play well for this club. I've high standards personally, and when you're involved in a team you want to do the best for the team.

Individual

"Not only for myself - I want to do the best for my own individual goals, etc - but also for the team, the coaches. You want to dig in and get the best performances for the coaches that you can and put that out in the field."

There were a number of factors behind that frustrating first season.

"Moving country was quite a challenge straight out of the box," the former Munster out-half explained.

"I probably didn't think it was going to be as much of a challenge as it was in terms of settling in general. The club have been brilliant for me, the fans were brilliant and stuff but it's just a different routine.

"The other thing is the amount of rugby that's played week in, week out with it being a World Cup year, it was just coming so thick and heavy that I almost never got time to take a breath.

"On top of that there were different styles of play, etc that you've to get your head around; you're learning on the job almost every week.

"You have a pre-season, but at the same time there's a lot of stuff ingrained into these players for years because they're working with Northampton for years, the squad is pretty settled and you might pick up two or three games in when that situation arises. It's just learning the way the team play as well."

Adversity builds character and Hanrahan is hoping that his challenges help him stand the test of time.

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