Cronin: 'I've got to play well and give Leo some food for thought'
Sean Cronin has a greater appreciation for the smaller things in life. A prolonged period in the treatment room will do that to a player but then again so too will the fact that he is now in his 30s and the father of twins.
It's been a hectic period in the Cronin household but six months out injured, first with a hamstring problem and then a neck issue, afforded the Limerick native plenty of time to adjust to fatherhood.
The hooker missed the majority of Leinster's season as well as the Six Nations and Ireland's summer tour but returned in last week's friendly against Bath and is in line to feature in the season-opening clash with the Dragons on Saturday.
"With the arrival of the two lads, it changes your focus a small bit," Cronin admitted.
"I'm sure the missus was delighted to have me at home and not being away at weekends for away games.
"My father was slagging me saying that's what kids do to you, they have literally taken you out of the game. He claimed that we did it to him when we came along. It's been great, it gives you a bit more focus in life. The rugby and the family life seem to be going alright at the moment.
"When you pick up injuries of course it puts it into perspective. At least you can go home and the kids will be there, they make you feel that bit better.
"I suppose it focuses the mind as well because it is a professional game, I'm just trying to play as well as I can and stay fit for them so I can provide a life going forward.
"It does focus the mind and probably does make you a bit selfish in terms of what you are doing to prep yourself, get yourself ready for games and stay fit. To stay in the mix up in here, it's tough enough to stay in the 23 so it is a big focus for me."
Cronin didn't require surgery on his neck injury but had an injection that he is hoping will help prolong his career. At 31, he knows that the dream won't go on forever but there is plenty of life in the old dog yet.
"If they have to wheel me out there I'll keep going," he laughed.
"You can definitely see that once you get by 30 you have to starting looking after yourself, really, really well. That doesn't just mean staying off the drink, obviously that's part and parcel of it, it's in the gym.
"I'm gone away from a massive strength focus. I am just trying to get my power and my speed up, trying and cut down a few kilos so I can move a bit better. Just stuff like that, that you have to adapt.
"I remember seeing it with Paul O'Connell when he was with Ireland. He changed his whole focus to try and keep him going and prolong his career.
"We identified a few issues areas where I need to strengthen it up, probably a bit of wear and tear from the seasons gone by.
"The way I looked at it was I got medical advice saying, 'This will benefit you, you run the risk of aggravating the neck again', so I had it in my mind that this would benefit me.
"There's no 50-50 call here, it's clear-cut, so I had that put to the side and took my few weeks off. A big focus in the pre-season for me was to get that up and I could see my scores coming up.
"When you see improvements like that, it gives you a good spur on that I'm on the right direction here, it's going to benefit me in terms of my scrum and that always makes it a bit better for your mindset that it's going to benefit me in the long run."
Yesterday's confirmation that Rory Best (35) will captain Ulster this season was a reminder that the Ireland skipper has no intention of riding off into the sunset just yet, while the emergence of Niall Scannell and James Tracy, and that's not to mention Tom McCartney who becomes Irish-qualified in November, has left Cronin in no doubt of the ground that he has to make up.
"I'd like to obviously think I'm still in the mix-up," he added.
"I've got to prove a point here (Leinster), I've got to play well and I've got to give not only Leo (Cullen) and the coaching staff here some food for thought, it's with Ireland as well.
"I'm not under any illusions, I need to play well and if you play well then you'll be in the mix. It's as simple as that really."