Sunday 25 August 2019

Conway announces his arrival after long route to main stage

Ireland's Andrew Conway. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's Andrew Conway. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

It had been a long time coming, far longer than anyone had imagined, but as soon as Andrew Conway's moment arrived, it was worth the wait.

Blazing a trail through schools rugby doesn't always guarantee success on a much bigger stage but it is generally a pretty good indicator of what lies ahead.

Conway was spoken about in the same breath as the likes of Luke Fitzgerald who seamlessly made the step-up to the professional grade but for one reason or another, it never quite happened for Conway.

Having to wait until 25 to make his international debut remains a surprise and after a shift in mindset in recent years, Conway is now desperate to make up for lost time.

For a player of his quality, he should have won more than just four caps by now and the manner in which he scored his first try on Saturday, you couldn't help but wonder how frustrating the wait must have been.


"I have watched enough of them over the years with friends and team-mates playing in big games and you are thinking you are good enough to be involved in them," the Munster flyer maintained.

"But I hadn't the consistency of performance in my game. And I have probably added a few layers to my game which are important at international level.

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"You can't just be a one-trick pony. It was a big occasion, a tough build-up. Your head goes in all sorts of different directions. Are you able for this level?

"Two or three years ago, there was probably a shift in mindset. I always trained hard and did my weights but I probably didn't have the holistic side of it where I broke down my game with coaches and put a plan together to do extras and try and improve in loads of different facets.

"So it wasn't that I wasn't committed to it before. I just added a few different pieces to it the last few years. I try to train as smart and hard as I can.

"A few extra passing sessions, do some high-ball stuff with Felix (Jones) and kicking, stuff with Jacques (Nienaber) and just being really consistent with it.

"As the season goes on, you pick up a few niggles. It's a rainy day in December and the easy option when you have been doing a few extras on the Wednesday and the body is tired is to think 'Ah, no, I'm actually grand.'

"One of the big things is being diligent and disciplined enough to stick those things out. Always do the bits we'd planned and are in place and not go off task as the season goes on. That's one of the things that has helped me a lot."

Wondering what might have been is inevitable in Conway's case but he has learned to accept that his journey hasn't turned out the way that many had expected. Time is however, still very much on his side.

"I do sometimes (wonder) and then other times I'm like 'Part of my journey is that I wasn't involved that way," he admitted.

"That's OK as well. It doesn't have to be the normal route of being a schools star and getting capped when you're 19 and having a great career for 10 or 15 years like some.

"Sometimes that's great say for Lukey Fitz, he had a great career that unfortunately ended through injury. Everyone has different journeys that they are on themselves.

"I have thought about it in the past but then the other side of me thinks that's just the way it is; it makes me appreciate being here more, definitely.

"But I haven't gotten past wishing I had changed this when I was younger. I was like what I was like and now I am like what I am like. Hopefully I have a few years left in me."

Conway still has the X factor that set him apart in school but crucially, he has added plenty more strings to his bow, particularly since he began working under Joe Schmidt.

After an excellent performance against the Springboks, he won't be getting ahead of himself but given that Schmidt doesn't intend to replace the injured Keith Earls, he is likely to get plenty of game time this month.

"When I came out of school I trained hard," Conway added.

"I did a few extra bits but I didn't have the holistic approach, didn't break down the skills that are needed for back-three to be consistently an international player and I'm definitely not there yet. I'm taking steps towards being there.

"I can't compare myself to other people which is one of the things I did in the past, where I am looking at Earlsy or Zeebs and thinking I need to be as good a ball player as Zeebs or need to be as good as stepping as Earlsy.

"You realise that with age and experience; I am who I am. I have my own skills. I work my ass off week-in week-out to improve. You can't change who you are but you can definitely improve who you are if you are consistently working and putting in the hours."

It's taken Conway time to announce his arrival on the main stage but it's certainly a case of better late than never.

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