Sunday 17 December 2017

Fit-again Johnston forging his own pathway to the top

Bill Johnston missed Ireland U-20s’ Six Nations campaign with a shoulder injury. Photo credit: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Bill Johnston missed Ireland U-20s’ Six Nations campaign with a shoulder injury. Photo credit: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

"People say he is one for the future, but certainly at the minute, he's one for now."

Anthony Foley's assessment of Bill Johnston during Munster's pre-season last August in many ways typified the excitement of supporters who have watched the 19-year old blaze a trail through schools rugby.

Johnston was so impressive in Rockwell College's Senior Cup winning campaign last year that just five months later, he was playing for Munster in their pre-season friendlies.

Given Munster's problems at out-half last season with Ian Keatley desperately struggling for form and Tyler Bleyendaal cursed with injury, it was left to Johnny Holland to pull the strings but had Johnston not suffered a dislocated shoulder last December, there is an argument to be made that he would have featured in the Pro12, such is how highly he is rated down south.

As a result of the shoulder surgery that followed, Johnston missed Ireland U-20s' Six Nations campaign and returned to action only last month, just in time to prove his fitness for the World Rugby U-20 Championship which begins next week.

Last summer was a busy time for Johnston who after sitting the Leaving Cert, lined out alongside his older brother David who is also in the Munster set-up.

The pair of brothers from Clonmel played together against Grenoble and while Bill faced five months out, he explains how David helped him through what was a tough time.

"We had plenty of discussions about what was going on in the senior team so I wasn't feeling too left out," he says.

"My brother is three years older than me so he was playing an age grade or two above me. That really blazed the trail almost, it was great that I could follow my brother.

Proud

"He showed me what to eat, how to train, what he was doing. I was able to do that at home with him and it was just a great environment.

"I'm really proud of him. It was my first time (playing together) which is amazing. It was such an honour to play with him and it was great for our family to be at the games."

For those who have seen Johnston playing, the natural ability that he has makes him a genuinely exciting prospect.

His running game is excellent while he is supremely confident with the boot. Ireland desperately missed him during the Six Nations and he is eager to make up for lost time, starting against Wales on Tuesday.

But is he daunted by the prospect of being propelled straight back into an environment like that? Not a bit.

"I wouldn't find it daunting at all," he confidently states.

"I know that everything that's thrown in front of me, I'll have seen it before and hopefully the work I put in this year will stand to me.

"Obviously, being an U-20 tournament there are professional-standard players but they won't be at the international standard of true professional players.

"It's (to turn professional) been my dream. I'd by lying if I said it wasn't, since I was a young kid playing rugby with my brother outside. The platform is there to go on from U-20s to the professional level and I definitely have aspirations to play that.

"I know there are obstacles that could potentially stand in the way. You have to work hard, you have to show up every day to train and I think I've shown I'm prepared to do that every day.

"It's definitely a step on the ladder if you're proving you can perform at this level. It's just below professional standard so you're only one step away from competing with the best. It's a nice challenge to have."

Johnston has passed every challenge that has been put in front of him in his fledgling career. Overcoming a serious shoulder injury and pulling the strings for his country is the latest one but don't back against him taking it all in his stride.

Remember the name.

Irish Independent

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