'My abilities were wasted worrying about what others were doing'
Ireland ambitions still on Hanrahan’s mind but fresh Munster focus is keeping him grounded
For all the gnashing of teeth regarding the IRFU-imposed withdrawal of their internationals from the majority of the festive inter-provincial programme, there will still be plenty of players with points to prove while the stars rest up on the couch.
JJ Hanrahan is one of them. Earlier this month he dismissed the notion that Andy Farrell might be taking more than a keen interest in his progress when the incoming Ireland coach took a trip to Thomond Park.
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This used to be the kind of talk that used to wrap him in knots. Once a World Player of the Year nominee at U-20 level, his career didn't progress in the straight line that many, including himself, might have assumed.
And so he stopped assuming.
Still, after finally managing his most sustained run of games in a Muster jersey, perhaps he couldn't help his mind wandering, ever so slightly, in contemplation of a cherished call from the new man.
It never came. And so he will push on, striving to get better.
"I definitely have that ambition, not many players in Ireland don't have that ambition," he says in an interview to be broadcast by TG4 ahead of tonight's Galway clash between the pace-setters in Conference B.
"Being very honest, I once held on to that ambition too tightly and when guys got ahead of me it affected my confidence because I'd be worried about the guys ahead of me and what they were doing.
"My ability was wasted by worrying about what others were doing rather than on what I should be doing.
"It is a little bit disappointing (not to get a call) because it would have been nice to get a foot in the door and show what I can do. But my main focus is on getting better week to week."
He has enough to be getting on with it this evening, with Connacht perhaps ear-marking this fixture as their best chance to eke something out of their festive fare, as their main Irish stars are likely to be rested for the remaining inter-pros.
"It's one of the most difficult games we play all year," admits Hanrahan, who will be up against the breakthrough star, Conor Fitzgerald.
"Conor is playing some of the best rugby he's ever played this season, he's brimming with confidence.
"Lots of fellahs are trying to impress their own teams and also the national selectors and you want to get one over your rivals so there's a natural intensity to these games. It's more than a rivalry."
The winner of this clash could well be sitting atop Conference B come the end of the weekend. Just a point currently separates first-placed Munster from Connacht and in a conference where there are just four points between the top four, every game counts.
The sides are coming off contrasting European results against English teams as Connacht kept their Champions Cup qualification hopes alive with a dramatic late win over Gloucester, while Munster suffered a narrow defeat at Saracens.
Andy Friend's outfit have lost just once in the last six rounds of PRO14 action - when Leinster visited the Sportsground in Round 6 - but that is their only home loss in any competition since January.
However, Munster's recent record against Connacht will give them cheer - having lost just one of the last six fixtures. Lock Quinn Roux is set to make his 100th appearance for the province as captain with Jarrad Butler missing through illness.
Connacht also go into the game boosted by the news that Tiernan O'Halloran has returned from injury and will start at full-back. He is part of a back-three with John Porch and Kyle Godwin on the wings.
Last week's try-assist hero Tom Daly has forced his way into the starting team alongside Bundee Aki. Caolin Blade, who has now featured in all 11 of Connacht's games so far this season, continues to partner Fitzgerald in front of a familiar pack.
For Munster, exciting scrum-half Craig Casey makes his first start having previously featured twice off the bench while Dave Kilcoyne returns from injury to start in the front-row.
Academy winger Liam Coombes makes his fourth appearance and starts alongside cousin Gavin Coombes for the first time.
CJ Stander retains his place and the captaincy with Chris Farrell, JJ Hanrahan, Jean Kleyn and Billy Holland also keeping their places in a strong side. Shane Daly is named at full-back with Calvin Nash and Liam Coombes on either flank.
Academy players Diarmuid Barron, Keynan Knox and Ben Healy are included among the replacements, along with Jeremy Loughman after injury.
Connacht - T O'Halloran; J Porch, T Daly, B Aki, K Godwin; C Fitzgerald, C Blade; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; U Dillane, Q Roux (capt); E Masterson, P Boyle, E McKeon. Reps: S Delahunt, C Kenny, D Robertson-McCoy, J Maksymiw, R Copeland, S Kerins, J Carty, S Fitzgerald.
Munster - S Daly; C Nash, C Farrell, D Goggin, L Coombes; JJ Hanrahan, C Casey; D Kilcoyne, K O'Byrne, S Archer; J Kleyn, B Holland; G Coombes, C Cloete, CJ Stander (capt). Reps: D Barron, J Loughman, K Knox, F Wycherley, J O'Donoghue, N Cronin, B Healy, S Arnold.
Ref - A Brace (IRFU).
- Connacht v Munster, Live, TG4, 5.15