Monday 18 November 2019

'If I get back playing like I can, things will fall into place'

Friday Focus

James Cronin in relaxed mood at training. Photo: Sportsfile
James Cronin in relaxed mood at training. Photo: Sportsfile

James Cronin

James Cronin has been lethal when the try-line has been in sight this season. When he starts, he generally scores.

The day Ireland were thumped by New Zealand in the World Cup quarter-finals, the Ballincollig native scored a hat-trick for Highfield in the All-Ireland League.

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James Cronin in relaxed mood at training and going over to score his side’s first try despite the tackle by Ospreys’ Olly Cracknell at Irish Independent. Photo: Sportsfile
James Cronin in relaxed mood at training and going over to score his side’s first try despite the tackle by Ospreys’ Olly Cracknell at Irish Independent. Photo: Sportsfile

Those three tries in a 32-20 hammering of Naas at Woodleigh Park on October 19 were a big personal achievement on his way back from injury. And he followed that up with a try for Munster on his first start this season.

In a home game against Ospreys, at Irish Independent Park close to where he grew up, the 28-year-old dotted down in another bonus-point win, this time a 28-12 triumph against next week's Heineken Cup opponents.

The loosehead prop is unstoppable when he starts a game in Cork in 2019-'20.

And he will need his best form this season when he battles it out with the in-form Ireland loosehead Dave Kilcoyne for the Munster No 1 jersey.

Kilcoyne was one of the stars of a grim World Cup campaign under Joe Schmidt and Cronin is excited at the prospect of the duo renewing their personal battle for supremacy.

"Fair play, he has kicked on and he is playing good rugby. It is good to see Munster players playing in the Irish squad. Long may that continue," says Cronin.

"He will come back and he has got the green jersey. But it is not just me, it is up to Jeremy Loughman and Boomer (Liam O'Connor) as well. We have got to raise the bar and tell him that is where it is at.

"If he surpasses that then great but there are three fellas here looking for the Munster jersey."

Cronin and Kilcoyne have pushed each other hard in recent years but two 24-year-olds, Loughman and O'Connor, are now legitimate threats as well.

Cronin has massive experience in Munster red, representing the province on 115 occasions, while he has three caps for Ireland.

He also has a contract with the province that will last until June 2021 but it didn't mean he wouldn't get left behind if his season was slow to get going.

It was a big pre-season where he faced a persistent knee issue and then a hamstring problem that threatened his minutes on the pitch as others excelled for Ireland and Munster. "I don't really focus on anyone but myself," says Cronin. "Before I would have focused on all of the external things. But if I get back fit and in good form and playing as the best James Cronin can, things will fall into place. That is my outlook. I am doing all the right things. Hopefully it will come good.

"I didn't really do anything out of the ordinary in the summer. I just got on with the job and the job is trying to get match-fit. It wasn't coming right. The mental strength you got from coming out the other end of it is huge.

"You appreciate, even cold training sessions on a Monday afternoon aren't so bad when you have to do cold running sessions on your own on a Monday, Tuesday and Friday when the lads aren't there.

"It is just nice to be in and around the group. You have to appreciate every training session and every game."

Cronin made his Munster senior debut against Leinster in 2013 and a five years later he celebrated a century of Munster appearances when he played against tomorrow's opponents, Ulster.

He has achieved much in provincial and international career, and will surely look to use all of his experience if he gets game-time against Ulster tomorrow at Thomond Park.

With the World Cup taking centre stage in recent months, Munster undertook a trip to South Africa that almost went unnoticed. That finished with one win against Southern Kings and one defeat to the on-song Cheetahs.

But Cronin built up a strong relationship with Skibbereen back-row Gavin Coombes, who was his roommate for the two weeks. It was another massive team bonding adventure for a tightly-knit group of players.

"South Africa was really good," adds Cronin. "We lost to Cheetahs and we didn't perform. That is on us and that is disappointing.

"But you are away for two weeks and it is good to get to know the young lads. You are having the craic.

"From that point of view it is great."

And with the possibility of a couple of big Springbok World Cup winners turning up at the High Performance Centre in UL next year, it's very exciting times for the Munster fans.

But the players have their own jobs to do this season. Progress would be achieving silverware and Cronin is desperate to contribute.

"I am fit but it might take me a few more games to get to my optimum," he says.

"I have to build up the matches. But I am good, it's all positive. We will keep the head down and drive on."

Irish Independent

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