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Patience is about to pay off as Tipp man eyes chance

The Big Interview: Bill Johnston

Bill Johnston is hoping that strong performances for Munster’s A team in the B&I Cup will help him towards earning a shot in the Pro14 team. Photo: Sportsfile
Bill Johnston is hoping that strong performances for Munster’s A team in the B&I Cup will help him towards earning a shot in the Pro14 team. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Although he fell foul to some minor flu symptoms last week, Bill Johnston still accumulated 72 minutes in the Munster 'A' B&I Cup victory at Nottingham, as he continues to fulfil his potential in the out-half position.

Since he bossed the action with Rockwell College in the Munster Schools Cup, the Clonmel native has long been touted as one of the future stars for Munster and Ireland.

Now 20, Johnston has already been involved in the Munster senior set-up for two seasons and after a few tough injury setbacks along the way, his mental fortitude has him in great stead going forward.

But for now Johnston is focused on a B&I Cup campaign where the reigning champions must keep winning if they want to qualify for the knockout stages in 2017-18.

"It's a great way to elevate yourself towards the first team. It's only a small step down in standard from a PRO14 match," said Johnston.

"It's good because you are guaranteed that game-time. Those few weeks light up your schedule, you see in a week or two where you could get two 80-minute games for a Munster side.

"You can put yourself forward for the senior side. You get rewarded for your performances with the As and we have featured in the first team quite a bit this season.

"It's a bit disappointing to miss out on the Champions Cup but I am always positive. If you go out and perform in the B&I Cup you leave the coaches in no doubt, and there is plenty of motivation as a result."

Munster 'A' are two points behind Bedford Blues at the top of Pool 1 in the B&I Cup, after last weekend's brilliant 17-12 win at Ladybay.

It leaves Pete Malone's side second of the best second-placed teams, and still not certain of progression into the next round. But the team overcame bigger obstacles last season, and Johnston is well used to fighting against the odds.

He had successive shoulder injuries while he attempted to make the Ireland U-20 out-half berth his own and in doing so, missed the Six Nations in 2016.

When he got back to full fitness and impressed in their Junior World Championship victories over Wales and New Zealand, he dislocated his shoulder against the Baby Blacks.

A subsequent ankle injury cost him some valuable game-time at the end of 2016 but after an inspired comeback to fitness, Johnston has a massively positive mindset.

"With the setbacks I am a bit of a mental alchemist now and I can take the positives out of everything," said Johnston.

"Maybe the first injury I could have said it's time to put on some weight and strength. And with another injury you come up with another thing you can improve on.

Window

"You might not be particularly happy with this part of your game and it gives you a window to attack it and immerse yourself in it fully. I am definitely able to take the positives out of all of them.

"You can definitely make the case that I am better off for them. All you can do is enjoy the game as much as you can when you are playing, that's what I have been doing.

"I am definitely better for my injuries in the short term and the long term. You have to overcome the adversity and these things make you stronger if you overcome them in the right way."

After three appearances for the Ireland U-20s in the 2017 Six Nations, the summer gave Johnston the chance to take stock and focus on his game, whether the minutes came with Munster, Munster 'A' or Garryowen.

"Something just clicked over the summer. I was getting a lot of rugby action in the pre-season, that was the main thing," said Johnston.

"I got so much contact and fitness in. I was playing so much rugby over the pre-season. It was so intense but really prepared my body for the rigours of a full season. It's been great.

"It's very frustrating missing out on opportunities and being on the sidelines. But things have clicked now and I am really enjoying it. It's what I want to do and it's nice to be on this side.

"I am involved every week, going out every week with the lads, making an impression on the coaches. You can't do that when you haven't played in a few weeks. It opens up everything.

"It's 100pc better when you are fit, as opposed to when you are injured. And the injuries I got were just freak accidents.

"There is no amount of training you can do that will stop you from breaking your legs.

"You just have to take that on your chin. I just have to prepare myself as best I can for every match. I am just seeing the rewards of a few good years of doing that. They are just unfortunate events.

"You just have to take injuries on the chin, and it's about being able to overcome those things and come out better on the other side and that's what I have done well."

With Ian Keatley, JJ Hanrahan and Tyler Bleyendaal for competition there is no easy route through to the Munster No 10 jersey.

But with three replacement appearances this season Johnston is destined for big things and he will use every minute he can get.

"There is no shortage of motivation and other expertise that the guys are willing to hand down. We got on really well off the pitch," said Johnston.

"We bounce off each other. When it comes to games and training we are really competitive obviously but really helpful to each other. We just want the best for each other."

Irish Independent

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