Saturday 21 September 2019

'I tore my ACL, tore my groin, nearly broke my neck, I had a bad run'

Munster's Niall Ronan has no regrets about calling time on his career. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster's Niall Ronan has no regrets about calling time on his career. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

If things had worked out according to plan, retirement would only now becoming into serious consideration for Niall Ronan.

Professional rugby is a fickle business however, and the Meath native learned that to the full extent throughout his 11-year career. If he wasn't battling against his own body, Ronan was scrapping for his next contract.

By the time 2013 rolled around, the flanker was seven years out of Leinster and had racked up 100 appearances for Munster en route to winning the Magners League two seasons previously.

Having bided his time, Ronan's patience had paid off, until an innocuous knee injury suffered in training turned out to be much more serious than first thought.

The then 32-year-old had quickly gone from starting in the Heineken Cup at a sold-out Thomond Park, to being forced to call time on his career.

"Unfortunately before I had to announce my retirement, I was injured for two years," Ronan recalls.

"I tore my ACL, tore my groin, nearly broke my neck, I had a bad run.

"I was understanding how injuries work but at the same time, when you go training on a Thursday and you're pushing hard, I was back in the Heineken Cup squad, and was trying to push on into the international scene.

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"Then all of a sudden you don't play again, ever. Dealing with that wasn't easy. I played for over 10 seasons and I suppose when I look back at what I achieved... I remember Jerry Flannery saying he would never be bitter.

"I definitely wasn't bitter. Jerry was proud of what he achieved and I feel the same way.

"I was never a high-profile player but I represented Munster over 100 times, represented Leinster and I was capped by Ireland at a lot of levels.

"When I look back at my career, I'm happy with what I achieved. Could I have achieved more? Possibly.

"I wasn't happy to retire but it's easier when you have achieved a few things and won a couple of medals as well.

"When you come out of rugby, you realise that it's a bubble. It is important but it's not as important as you make it out to be when you are playing."

Ronan's seven years at Munster came at a time when the province were going through their golden period. Injuries robbed him of some of the big days but he was never regretted making the move from Leinster.

"My contract was up and Leinster had just signed Shane Jennings and Keith Gleeson was an Irish international, starting most of the games," Ronan maintains.

"Prior to that, I was offered contracts with Connacht and Ulster but I turned them down. When I went looking again, I didn't have that many options. Declan Kidney heard that my contract was up. He gave me an opportunity to resurrect my career.


"There were times when I thought about retiring from rugby and going back playing Gaelic football, which was one of my first loves.

"I was offered a chance to play with one of the best club teams in world rugby at the time, you couldn't turn that down. It was probably the best decision I ever made in my life.

"I suppose it was the pinnacle of Munster Rugby around that time. You think about that players that were on that team. They were iconic leaders.

"With that fan base, playing every week was an unbelievable experience. It doesn't just improve you as a rugby player, it makes you a better person.

"You become mentally tough because you're playing in a team of guys who inspire you. It made you want to achieve big things.

"It was a great experience. I loved every minute of playing with those guys. I cherish those memories."

Ronan's playing days are a distant memory. Now 35, he runs his own business, Titan Wellness - a company that specialises in building a culture of health and wellness in the corporate sector.

It's a far cry from playing for Ireland alongside the likes of Johnny Sexton and Brian O'Driscoll against Australia, but Ronan is content with how the cards have fallen for him.

Following his retirement four years ago, he eventually went back playing football, and he recaptured some of the form from his glory days for the Meath minors when he helped his club St Colmcille's to win the intermediate county championship in 2016, which he subsequently dedicated to his late team-mate, Anthony Foley.

"It took me about a year to be able to run again after the injury, it was torture," Ronan admits.

"I was playing golf yesterday and both of my knees were in agony. Some days aren't great.

"When I went back playing football, we got to the club All-Ireland final. I trained once a week, had to take four days off and then play a match.

"I couldn't run like I used to. My speed was reduced. I slowed up an awful lot. My mobility was bad.

"But I got the opportunity to go back and play and we won our first county final so that was a great experience, but in terms of my career now, a Junior 'D' pub team is the height of it."

The last time Munster took on Leinster in a league semi-final, Ronan got the nod ahead of David Wallace, which was indicative of the changing of the guard.

Leinster got the better of Munster that day in 2010, but the Reds will be hoping to go one better tomorrow as they return to the RDS.

"This game is huge," Ronan adds.

"In my opinion, Munster really have to win. Leinster are the form team obviously. They are on a high after last weekend and they have good strength in depth, but I think it is a must-win game for Munster."

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