Sunday 22 September 2019

Returning centre eyes Munster pathway to Ireland cap

Tyrone native called time on his French spell and has made immediate impact in red shirt

Chris Farrell. Picture: Sportsfile
Chris Farrell. Picture: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Chris Farrell has always played in the centre. Never the second row, he wasn't a flanker nor a No 8. But standing at 6ft 4ins and weighing in excess of 17 stone, you could be forgiven for thinking he may have worn a smaller number.

The 24-year-old Tyrone native had already gone through the Ulster system and spent three seasons in France with Grenoble before he hooked up with Munster at the beginning of 2017-'18.

His reputation grew and grew, and despite a couple of injury-plagued seasons with Ulster, Farrell is now a mainstay in the Munster starting 15 and pushing towards international selection.

"Throughout last season as the weeks went on and Munster were playing better and better, my decision to move got easier," says Farrell.

"It was difficult at times before that because I was basing it on the season prior to when I was signing. They weren't getting the results. I was debating whether they were going through a transition.

"But week on week they started to get better and they were becoming more of a force in Europe, and I was sure then that I had made the right decision."

Farrell was born in Enniskillen, he grew up in Fivemiletown on the Tyrone side of the Fermanagh border and attended Fivemiletown College.

He started playing rugby with Clogher Valley RFC when he was 11 and gradually navigated his way to Belfast where he linked up with Campbell College, boarding for one year while doing his A Levels.

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Farrell was already well on the scene in Ulster at that stage, and having worked with Johnny Bell previously, he linked up with the senior squad straight out of school.

He would make his debut in a pre-season game when he was just 18 and ended up facing both Leinster and Munster in his first campaign with the province in 2011-'12.

But Farrell never made the breakthrough in Europe, and was limited to three league appearances for Ulster over the next two seasons as injury wreaked havoc.

"David Humphreys always had faith in me. He was always reassuring me that he wanted me to stay. I remember sitting down and he was asking me whether it was the right decision to go to France considering my injury history and the fact I may get lost in the system," says Farrell.

"I went to Grenoble because Bernard Jackman was there and he found out that I was looking to leave. I was going to head to England, probably London Irish, but he heard that I was looking to leave and he got on to me straight away. I met him a week later and then all of a sudden I was on my way to Grenoble."

Nightmare Farrell got over his injury nightmare in France and his career suddenly took off. He played against some of the best players in the world as the Top 14 became flooded with money. But he always wanted to return to Ireland down the line.

"In France there is a real mental thing, I don't know if it is in the foreigners as well. But with the French players there is a real mental thing with the way they approach games playing at home," says Farrell.

"No matter who it is it could be a team that are at the bottom of the league. It is probably those teams that you have most fear of going to play against. La Rochelle in my first year were down at the bottom of the table, Brive and Oyonnax.

"You look at those games and you are not going to win away from home because they get so up for it. Those games are more difficult than the bigger teams.

"We always targeted Stade Francais and Racing 92 away from home. They didn't have the intimidating factor about their ground, they wouldn't have had the 15,000 at every game.

"There just wasn't that atmosphere when you played in Paris because it's not the premier sport there."

Munster were the likely destination should Farrell turn for home, and a potential move to Limerick was at the back of his mind, long before he signed last season.

"In my first year in France I had spoken with Munster and had a Skype with Anthony Foley. At the time I was just there for six months and he was asking would I come back. I said I wasn't coming back because I was enjoying it and getting game-time and that is exactly what I needed," says Farrell.

"I was just going to try and keep that rolling for as long as I could and build up a reputation if I could. I signed on in France for two years after that.

"It was before last season had even started that I came home and met Rassie Erasmus in Dublin. I decided a few games into last season that I was going to come back to Munster."

Farrell has been a resounding success already and with eight appearances for the province already this season, he is well on his way to wearing a green shirt soon.

"Everyone wants to know whether they are capable of playing international rugby and I wouldn't be home unless I thought I could do that too," adds Farrell.

"Coming home and joining a massive province like Munster is also a major part of that too. The bonds that there are between the various provinces is much stronger than they are in French clubs.

"I came back here with that in mind, but also to play with Ireland. It's a case of performing well for Munster before anything else. I need to be more consistent here before I can think of Ireland."

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