Sport Rugby

Sunday 15 September 2019

Cronin driven to bounce back again

Hooker determined to fight his way into Joe Schmidt's World Cup plans after Six Nations axing

Seán Cronin is hoping that his form with Leinster will help him return to the Ireland set-up
Seán Cronin is hoping that his form with Leinster will help him return to the Ireland set-up

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

In another era, under another coach, Seán Cronin would be one of the first names on the Ireland team-sheet. Instead, he finds himself in a sort of strange limbo.

The hooker regularly earns rave reviews for his performances in Leinster blue and rarely disappoints when introduced off the bench for the national team.

However, when things go wrong he always seems to be the fall guy. The up-side of being dropped as often as he has is that he is used to dealing with the disappointment and his reaction has always earned him a place in the squad again.

In February, he was handed his first Six Nations start in Rome and things didn't go well. He was far from alone, but when the squad for the subsequent games was announced his name was absent.

The Limerick native will sit down with Joe Schmidt in a few weeks' time to see where he stands ahead of the World Cup, but his focus right now is on channelling all of his frustration into a performance in Saturday's Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against Toulouse.


"It was a bit of a disappointment obviously," Cronin says of the Six Nations. "But I think I'm a pretty mentally resilient type of guy that I can come back and learn from stuff that's went on and mistakes that I've made or whatever like that and try and put in my best performance here.

"I try not to dwell on it, to learn from it and then just apply yourself when you come back. Whether it's here or with Ireland and that's all you can do."

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In many ways, the proven ability to bounce back is a badge of honour. Lesser players would have given up in similar circumstances.

"To be honest, since I've come back from the Six Nations, I wouldn't be singing or dancing, going around the place, my form has been okay, I'd like to be playing a bit better," he says.

"But, like I said, it's the character of the person that if you can deal with those lows as best you can and apply yourself and just back yourself, that's all you've got to do.

"Even some of the young guys now, if things aren't going well for you, just look for the next time, whether it's on the training ground or when you cross the line at the weekend, as a chance to get better and improve and that's all you can do as a pro, just look at the next opportunity ahead of you.

"I think that's the big part of it, I think I've said before that you've gotta take the highs with the lows and just try and get better; don't sulk, don't get too down on yourself but just look at the next time that you get out there as an opportunity to go and prove yourself and that's what I'm trying to do here, is just keep proving myself and keep trying to play well."

Some would argue that, Cronin was the scapegoat for a sub-par Six Nations.

After all, he was far from the only player to endure an off-day and the consequences were far more severe for the 32-year-old.

"I was disappointed, obviously, but no, not scapegoated. I think you've just gotta deal with it," he says.

"Even when I was dropped the year before last, I just looked at it as a chance to get back here. I hadn't played much rugby, I was coming back from a couple of injuries, so I looked at it as a chance to get more rugby under my belt and the way I look at it now, it's grand, whatever happened, that happened.

"But I have the opportunity to play in some of the biggest club rugby games in the season coming up and if I'm there worrying about what happened there in February, that's not going to be good for anyone. It's not going to be good for me or my team-mates.

"So it's fully behind me. Like I said, there's not that many other clubs playing in semi-finals this weekend.

"I haven't spoken to anyone yet, maybe on the phone. I am maybe going to catch up with Joe, I think he went back to New Zealand for a few weeks, he had to go back.

"So I will probably touch base with him before the season is over just to get a run-down on just about how it ended on stuff like that. I talked to him. I am still firmly in the mix as long as I perform. That's all I can do and that is fair enough I suppose.

"The biggest thing that you can do as a player to try and change perception or what they are looking for is to go and see what they are looking for and then try and deliver.

"Look, I had a couple things with Leo (Cullen) a few of years ago, even 18 months ago when I was coming back from an injury and he said it straight, there was a few things I wasn't doing well.

"And then if you go and show on the pitch that you can do that, and try and change the perception and give what they are looking for, that is a pretty big way to change perceptions."

Understandably, he is not about go down the route of publicly revealing those elements he needed to improve.

"No I am keeping them for myself," he smiles.

Like any hooker, his work at the lineout will be most heavily scrutinised. Thus, the return of a banker jumper like Devin Toner is to be welcomed from Cronin's point of view.

"I've played with Dev since we were Irish Schools so me and him go back a bit so if I don't like certain calls, I can obviously talk to Dev," he adds.

"His experience is huge, both internationally and at club level. He is calm in the pictures he is providing to us and he can see it before anyone else does.

"He is just very good at providing the right call at the right place. That's just something that he has and the fact that he is 6ft 10ins is a big help as well, although they've got pretty big guys in the row as well this weekend."

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