Friday 20 September 2019

'If you don't show up and they do, it can make for a long day

Cronin hoping to give O’Brien, McGrath and McCarthy send-off they deserve but wary of Glasgow challenge, writes Marcus Ó Buachalla

On the charge: Seán Cronin makes a break during the Champions Cup quarter-final against Ulster. Photo: Sportsfile
On the charge: Seán Cronin makes a break during the Champions Cup quarter-final against Ulster. Photo: Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

As Seán Cronin settles into his chair and the chat begins to flow his thoughts bring him back to previous battles with Glasgow Warriors.

There have been some tough days in Scotstoun that he'd rather not dwell on but then there have been moments when it has clicked for Leinster regardless of the venue.

Take the 18-34 win over there last year in the Champions Cup or the 34-12 win against them in the PRO12 final in a sun-kissed RDS in 2014.

"We've had some good battles with them over the years. Edinburgh have definitely emerged over the last season or two as a force and as a club but for a long while Glasgow were the main Scottish club so what you saw with Scotland, you often saw with the Warriors.

"Similar high-quality players that could really play ball. They were really well-coached too.

"Obviously Gregor Townsend has gone on to coach Scotland now but they were lethal under him and to be fair Dave Rennie has continued that trend.

"If you give them an inch of space they take a mile - broken-field runners that can cut you to pieces.

"So for us it's about respecting all of that. Respecting the history between both teams and then trying to prepare as best we can for the mother of all battles."

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Cronin played nearly the full 80 minutes in the PRO12 final five seasons ago. Is there anything to be taken from that win?

"No, I don't think so really. We had to work hard for that one. They got a great start with Finn Russell kicking a few early penalties but then Zane (Kirchner) crossed for a try and then 'Jenno' (Shane Jennings) just before half-time and that gave us the lift that we needed.

"But look, even the three players that I've mentioned there have all moved on from both clubs. If memory serves me right maybe only three or four of that starting Leinster XV will play again tomorrow. Only five seasons, but that is some change."

Does he feel as he looks back on that XV that there is a bit of a changing of the guard going on?

"Not really. I just think it's the model that we have here in Leinster. Every year you get six or seven lads that move on for whatever reason.

Retire

"Some retire, some leave the club for a new challenge but they get replaced by young lads usually from the academy or auld lads like Scott Fardy and suddenly that is maybe on average 30-plus players that have moved on in that time.

"So I don't think it's that big a surprise when you read through it but it probably also explains why we can't take too much from that game either! Sure nobody is left!"

It's hard not to look ahead to a final tomorrow in Celtic Park without referencing two weeks ago in Newcastle. All the talk was on his own fitness but he made it and also made it to the starting line again against Munster.

"The calf was touch and go all right but like we see it every day of the week, Saturday and Sundays included. The medical team and the physios go above and beyond for players and their recovery. There isn't much they wouldn't do for you.

"So they were brilliant and then I managed to get through enough training the week of the Saracens game to test it and off we go then.

"You have to trust the work you've done but also how you feel and I felt as good as I could. But look, it wasn't about my calf! It was about winning that game and we just couldn't get it done against a very good Saracens team."

A lot of the commentary has been about their strength and their size but the 33-year-old Irish hooker believes that is only one part of the story.

"Absolutely it is. They were massive men! But I felt we contained them really well. It was a great battle between two well-drilled sides.

"They didn't bully us. They didn't bulldoze their way through us. We were brave and we stuck to the task at hand.

"The biggest lesson from that defeat is that in a final against really top-quality opposition, when those chances come, you have to take them and we had two, three maybe even four chances that weren't even maybes, they were ones that if we executed our basics better, we were in.

"That's what hurts. It was in our grasp. And that's not to take away from Saracens by the way. Fair play to them, they took their chances, we didn't. And that will stick with us for a while."

So would a win tomorrow make up for it?

"It's hard to answer that one. We set out at the start of the year to win two trophies so if you look at it that way were we to win, it's not a bad strike record to have won one from two a year after doing a double.

"It would be a great result for the 57 players that got us this far, for the coaches and the backroom team. So I don't think it necessarily makes up for it because ultimately we didn't win the Champions Cup and the only thing that makes up for that is winning it back.

"But were we to win tomorrow, of course it would be brilliant for this squad and for the club to have something tangible to show for our efforts. But we wanted the double . . . "

Smile

The fact that he trails off with a smile shows how far they have come in these few weeks. The massive mental and physical challenge of getting up for Munster, and then beating them, probably helped as does the fact there is still silverware to be won. They are ready to go again.

"It's all we are talking about. One more performance. One more game to send Seánie (O'Brien) off with another medal and Jack (McGrath), Nick (McCarthy) and all the lads.

"But Glasgow don't care about that and if we get distracted by anything off the field we won't get very far. We have learned that in the past against this side. If you don't show up and they do, it can make for a long day. But hopefully that won't be the case and the lads will get the send-off they deserve and the supporters will get something to shout about."

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