Sunday 19 November 2017

Conway eager to make up for lost time on June tour

Ireland's Andrew Conway. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's Andrew Conway. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Back when he was lighting up the U-20 World Cup in successive years, if you had told Andrew Conway that 15 of his team-mates would earn senior Ireland caps before he made his debut he wouldn't have believed you.

Feted from an early age after tearing up the Leinster Schools Senior Cup with Blackrock College, the back-three sensation was long tipped to be an Ireland star and his performances in successive Junior World Cups in 2010 and 2011 appeared to confirm his potential.

Michael Cheika fast-tracked Conway into the Leinster team as a teenager ahead of older wingers in 2010, but slowly his progress stalled.

Frustrated with a lack of opportunity at the RDS, he took up an offer to move to Munster and only after he'd agreed to leave did he get a consistent run of games under Joe Schmidt before signing off and heading south in 2013.

He has played 75 times for his adopted province, but there have been plenty of frustrating periods to go with the high points and as one by one his peers - led by Simon Zebo - amassed caps and younger charges got their international opportunity he began to wonder if his presumed destiny would ever be fulfilled.

Finally, in March this year, he got his hands on the green jersey that at times appeared to have eluded him when he was brought on for Keith Earls at half-time of the win over England on the final day of the Six Nations.

"Relief is one of the emotions amidst other ones," he reflects.

"It had probably been something that I'd thought about a lot and anything you think about a lot and that's your goal, once you've achieved that it's satisfying, relieving and whatever else.

"I did have that (expectation) growing up, that that was the perception of where my career was going and it didn't go that way and lads that I was competing with went on to play for Ireland, for the Lions, have numerous caps, have won Heineken Cups or whatever.

"So, yeah, it definitely made it a bit more complicated in my head, going asking the questions as to why am I not doing this?

"Once you peel that back and really reflect on what the actual solutions were to get there, then it didn't make it harder, but that's all I knew when I was younger and then I wasn't kicking on.

"There are probably a few reasons; a few injuries, a bit of bad luck, maybe a selection or two that went one way and could have gone the other.

"Then you're not playing consistent games. I came down with Munster, except for the first year with Rob Penney, we haven't been competing. We were in a PRO12 final a few years back, but we haven't been at the top table really.

"That was the perception, Leinster were playing really well, Ulster have exciting new backs, Connacht were ripping it up last year. When your club isn't doing well and you're trying to break on, it makes it that much harder.

"This year, there's probably six or seven guys from Munster who got capped and if you look back at last year I don't know the number, I'd say there's a big difference in it. When Munster are going well it makes a massive difference."

Opportunity

The summer tour of the United States and Japan will offer another opportunity for Conway to establish himself under Schmidt. He's still just 25 and under Rassie Erasmus has been thriving.

Throw in the chance to c laim a Guinness PRO12 title, which would be Munster's first trophy since 2011, and he is hungry for more. "Your goals then quickly change," he says.

"At the start of the year I would have bitten your hand off to have the season we've just had with Munster, thus far, and to get an Ireland cap. But once you get there, you get greedy and you look for something else.

"You look for what's down the line, a PRO12 trophy or whatever comes with that after. It's ambition, if you're not ambitious then you're going to be up to nothing really.

"The level you're playing at, the people you're competing with week-to-week is so high that if you're comfortable with reaching a certain level and taking the foot off the gas then it's not going to be long before you're thrown out the door."

Conway highlights Erasmus's ability to break the game down into moment-by-moment "battles" as key to his gradual progress this season.

Having won his own personal battle to fulfil what many felt was his destiny, he is primed to kick on.

Irish Independent

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