Monday 18 December 2017

Tracy: 'I've learned the hard way - to live in the moment'

Hooker James Tracy is enjoying his time with Ireland in Japan. Photo: Sportsfile
Hooker James Tracy is enjoying his time with Ireland in Japan. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

A tour like this in Japan is a reward in any case, but especially if for a few years you've been in a queue where the only thing you were feeling were sharp elbows from those around you. That was James Tracy's lot in Leinster. Then this season he managed to double his appearances in blue to 26 from 2015/16. Just like that.

Making the shift from loose head to hooker accounts for part of the wait. And being in a crowded room doesn't help either. You need patience and fortitude in equal measure.

"It's mad," he says. "I remember Ian Madigan saying to me before that it might seem that you're a million miles away but you don't realise how close you are until it happens because it all happens at once.

"Even when I was fifth choice I was doing my own routine, training as best I could. You can't control anything else, you just have to hope the opportunity comes, and I was lucky enough that I got one."

With three hookers on this tour however it's difficult not to be Roy of the Rovers when the window of opportunity opens. Niall Scannell is part of the go-to contingent, so Tracy and Dave Heffernan have been scrapping for remainders. And that's a challenge.

Chances

"A hundred per cent," he says. "That was the first thing Joe says to you as a sub, it's 'fit in first', then do whatever else after, but the main thing is fit in first. That was a good thing to set in your mind. I've had a fair few chances off the bench with Leinster, but it's a different animal playing for your country.

"There's that extra bit of nerves, so setting your mind ahead to 'fit in first', do your roles then everything else can take care of itself."

That has implications as well for moving on quickly after making a mistake. It might suit your competitors when it happens but lingering on it only makes it worse.

"It's funny, in Leinster there's Bryan Byrne, Sean Cronin, Richardt Strauss - so if you make a mistake you're falling down the pecking order very quickly. So that pressure is always there and you learn the more you dwell on a mistake, the more you'll make of it, it's like the law of attraction, so I've learned the hard way, to live in the moment, and try deal with it that way.

"That has helped me in here when the pressure and stakes are higher. I still have to throw the ball in the lineout, as if no one's there: the old trick of trying to imagine everyone is naked in the room when you're making a public speech."

It's a serious business but Tracy has been taken with the extra curricular stuff between New York and Tokyo. That, and getting to know fellas he previously onoy squared up to.

"We kind of go out in dribs and drabs of different mixed groups. Any other spare time we have. All rugby aside it's been brilliant, on the other side of it as well it's been a great experience.

"Getting to know the lads you're playing against. It's hilarious when you build up these perceptions of people that you kind of hate from playing against them.

"Even when you don't know them and then you get to know them, and they're good lads. Just like anyone else - like the lads you get changed beside every week and go out and play with. It's been brilliant to share the experiences with them and get to know a few familiar faces that you mightn't have liked much in the past.

"I've been getting to know Scans (Niall Scannell), Killer (Dave Kilcoyne) and John Ryan. The front row union you're going up against in the derby games - just getting to know them really well and building friendships - it's been good."

They all seem happy enough now, united in a cause of trying to outwork the man next to you. If Tracy can stay ahead of Heffernan on this trip, and snag another bit of game time in Tokyo on Saturday, he will be happier still.

Irish Independent

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