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Winging his way towards the top after crossing big divide

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‘If I start looking at international stuff too soon it might affect my game,’ insists Andrew Conway

‘If I start looking at international stuff too soon it might affect my game,’ insists Andrew Conway

SPORTSFILE

‘If I start looking at international stuff too soon it might affect my game,’ insists Andrew Conway

Andrew Conway has flipped the second-season syndrome theory on its head. It took the 23-year-old some time to feel his way into the Munster set-up but gradually he has moulded himself into a first-team regular.

The former Leinster winger has gone from being a raw talent to a proven finisher, and with eight tries in 29 senior appearances for his adopted province he has the stats to back that up.

The Dublin native thinks his ability to perform on the big stage has helped him realise the potential he showed at Irish U-20 level.

"You always want to think of yourself as a player that plays well in big games and that is important for the coaches, that you have that experience," he says.

"The U-20s is a long time ago but over the years in the big games that I have been involved, they have been some of my better performances.

"That is a big string to the bow that you don't get overawed in the big games, whether it is a Leinster game in Thomond or up in the Aviva or a big European game.

"You do need to prove your worth in the week-to-week Pro12 ones but I think with those big ones especially, if you are looking at kicking on to international level you need to be kicking on in those ones."

Conway was one of the stars emerging from Blackrock College's Leinster Schools Senior Cup-winning side in Blackrock College in 2009. He also won junior medals in 2006 and '07 and his promise saw him drafted into the Leinster academy from the off.

Within a year, Conway was signing a senior a full-time contract at Leinster, and his form for the Ireland U-20s was electric.

In all there were 14 tries in 16 appearances, with an astonishing ten in ten U-20 World Championship games.

He went on to play for three seasons at the RDS and it sent ripples through Irish rugby when it was announced that he would be leaving to join Munster at the start of last season.

"I would often be asked am I happy with my decision and to be honest from day one or day two, I was happy with the one I made," he says.

"Don't get me wrong, it was a tough decision at the time, leaving my home province - what was such a successful province and playing and training with some of the Irish greats of the last few years.

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"But it was a good decision that I thought about, and I got advice from various different people. At the end of the day I felt it was the right decision - I just went with my gut and I couldn't be happier with it."

Conway wasn't the first and won't be the last player to cross the blue and red divide, and has some advice for Munster's incoming Leinster back-row Jordan Coghlan.

"As long as you are throwing yourself in the deep end it will work out for you. Ireland is so small so if your family are from Dublin and you are moving to Limerick or Cork you are just two or two-and-a-half hours up the road," he says.

"If you had a day off you could head up the night before and spend a bit of time with them. That's grand to do but I think you really need to change things up.

"If you are swapping provinces you should be moving home and just jumping into the deep end and getting stuck into it. It's a fresh opportunity. You want to take that with both hands."

Opportunity knocks as well for Conway at the moment: he is part of a Munster side that stand of the brink of top-two finish in the Pro12 and a home semi-final.

They recovered from the Champions Cup exit to Saracens with wins over Sale, Cardiff and Glasgow, with only a draw away at Scarlets and that blip at the Liberty Stadium blotting their copybook.

Now with five rounds of Pro12 rugby remaining, Munster are third in the standings, and Conway wants to focus on this competition rather than wondering whether he might be receiving a call from Joe Schmidt ahead of the World Cup.

"If I start looking at international stuff too soon it might affect my game and I just want to do well for Munster at the moment," he says.

"There is a big queue of back-three players in the Irish set-up - Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls are two Lions, and they haven't been in the match-day 23 recently.

"Then you've got Andrew Trimble who is out injured, he was the Irish Player of the Year last year as well as Dave Kearney, who was probably one of the strongest performers for Ireland and Leinster last year and they aren't making it either.

"If I am looking at that, and I haven't been in that environment too much other than a few camps and a Wolfhounds game, then you are going to start losing ground because there is big competition in Munster.

"I need to be on the pitch as much as I can be and in doing so try to put my hand up by playing well for Munster. I think if you are starting for a team like Munster, and you and the team are going well, there is no reason why you wouldn't be in the conversation for camps.

"But at the moment I wouldn't be thinking too much about that - I would be thinking about Munster.

"Here we have Ronan O'Mahony, who has had a great season, Simon Zebo, JJ Hanrahan has been playing a bit at 15, Earlsy at centre and wing and Felix Jones as well.

"There is a lot of competition there so you need to be thinking about the right objectives and not things that are out of your control."

Irish Independent