Sunday 23 September 2018

'When you get a taste for success, you want more'

The Big Interview: Seán Cronin

Sean Cronin in action against Ospreys’ Justin Tipuric and Dmitri Arhip. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Sean Cronin in action against Ospreys’ Justin Tipuric and Dmitri Arhip. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

There isn't much history between Leinster Rugby and Saracens in the Champions Cup. You have to go back to the 2010/'11 season for the one and only time that they locked horns in the pool stages of that season's Heineken Cup.

Leinster came away from Wembley with a two-point win but were worthy 43-20 winners in front of a sold-out RDS in the return fixture in January.

The season would end up with a second Heineken Cup trophy coming back to the 12 counties as Sexton, Heaslip and Co produced the comeback to end all comebacks against Northampton in the final.

Seán Cronin came in to Leinster the following season from Connacht and would add a Heineken Cup to his own trophy cabinet in his first season so while he knows what it takes to win at the highest level, this is his first crack at Saracens.

"What's gone before is irrelevant really. Even in the pool stages and us topping our pool unbeaten. It matters for nothing. This is knockout rugby now. A once-off game with a massive prize at stake for the winner.

"Saracens are a quality outfit, no question about that. They have been one of the most consistent teams in Europe for the last two seasons and they have serious pedigree in the competition.

Sean Cronin following Ireland’s Grand Slam victory
Sean Cronin following Ireland’s Grand Slam victory

"You don't become two-time champions without that quality and they have it in abundance. Their record across both the Champions Cup and the Aviva Premiership is very impressive.

"You could say we're facing the best of the best in Europe from the last few seasons. It's a massive challenge but it's one we are really looking forward to. There's been a good buzz about the place this week and it's all building nicely."

No second guesses where the buzz has come from this week.

"Some of the lads had a few days off last week after the Grand Slam so when they came in on Monday this week they were in great form.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile

"Having them in and the energy they brought. I think the time off did them good, they're refreshed and ready to go."

Some have spoken about a 'dip' when players come back from international games but the 61-times-capped Cronin prefers to focus on the positives.

Taste

"Absolutely. It's a much easier place to come back in to after a positive campaign and I think actually once you get a taste for success, you just want more of it. And that's what has happened here. Whether that's older lads or younger lads, they want more and we'd all like to go further this year."

As mentioned, the last time Leinster played Saracens they would go on to lift the Heineken Cup. The last time Ireland won the Grand Slam in 2009, Leinster would also go on to win in Europe a few months later for the very first time.

The omens are good.

"Again what's gone before won't impact on us and our preparations.

"We have been really well briefed this week and last week as well actually for the Saracens challenge. They have threats everywhere and I think Stuart (Lancaster) referred to this the other day. The game is actually a Test match in all but name. Across both teams you have seasoned internationals and young lads with real talent. Saracens have a strong scrum, set-piece is solid, but they also have some finesse to their game and can really hurt you if you let them.

"The challenge for us is to find the ways to shut them down. And you can be sure that they are working just as hard to do the same to us."

With only three training sessions this week and with a Saracens team coming to the Aviva as good as Cronin says they are, does that make the mental side even more important than the physical?

"Yes and no. Like any team you have to have your homework done but I suppose with less on-pitch time this week, and less time together as a team than what might be ideal for such a big game, maybe the focus on the tiny margins goes up a notch.

"I suppose both teams have a bit of familiarity from the Six Nations. We've seen plenty of tape of Saracens players when we were preparing for the England game and them us.

"So it's not totally fresh and new when we landed and started prepping for them."

The familiarity for some of the English Saracens players goes back to the venue too and their experience in losing the Grand Slam to Ireland in March 2017 in the Aviva. Cronin is keen for the Aviva to play its part again.

"We have to make it count for us. There is no point working so hard to get a home quarter-final if we can't channel the support we have and those 50,000 supporters and create a cauldron. We can thrive off that. That can push us. No question about it."

With 23 games to his name this season in Leinster blue plus five games in the Six Nations, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the season couldn't have gone much better for the Limerick native, but it's easy to forget the disappointment he felt when missing out on selection for the Guinness Series.

Did it make the Grand Slam all the sweeter having had to work that bit harder to get in there in the first place?

"Yeah possibly. Look ultimately it was about getting in there, it wasn't about me, it was about the team and everyone contributing and doing their bit.

"But I did have to dig deep and I did have to put that disappointment for the autumn internationals behind me.

"I couldn't afford to moan and mope. I had to play and play well for Leinster and I think it gave me that extra bite that I needed.

Special

"To have played my part in something historic is pretty special."

For the first time too daddy got to raise a trophy in front of wife Claire and twins Finn and Cillian.

"I think they got more air-time on TV than their dad! Certainly at the start of the games they grabbed their moments!

"Look it's been brilliant to share those moments with them and with the family.

"We've got some special moments caught on camera and on film with them and the family. You do it for them, for family, for friends and they bring a brilliant focus off the pitch when maybe things aren't going your way."

Hopefully more opportunities for Finn and Cillian to celebrate on the field with dad on Sunday.

Irish Independent

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