Saturday 21 September 2019

I thought my dream of playing for Ireland was over, admits Farrell

Chris Farrell in relaxed mood at Carton House before leaving for Japan. Photo: Sportsfile
Chris Farrell in relaxed mood at Carton House before leaving for Japan. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Back in 2014, when Chris Farrell packed his bags and headed for France, he did so having accepted that his dream of playing for Ireland was over, for the time being at least.

A former Ireland U-20 international, Farrell was on the right path until it suddenly became blocked at Ulster, where there were a plethora of centre options to choose from.

Peter O’Mahony and Jacob Stockdale as Vodafone Ireland presents Ireland’s ball to the IRFU. Photo: INPHO
Peter O’Mahony and Jacob Stockdale as Vodafone Ireland presents Ireland’s ball to the IRFU. Photo: INPHO

Injuries didn't help his cause and it wasn't long before Farrell slipped down the pecking order, which left him at a crossroads.

At 21, regular first-team rugby was becoming imperative, but he also knew that if he didn't stay in Ireland, he was ruling himself out of contention to wear the green jersey.

Then Grenoble offered him a life-line and with Mike Prendergast and Bernard Jackman both part of coaching staff, Farrell made the move.

Reputation

Three years later, he had rebuilt his reputation and with Joe Schmidt playing a key role in engineering the move to Munster, everything began to fall into place again as Farrell's World Cup ambitions were reignited.

"As soon as I went to France, I thought the dream of playing for Ireland had gone," Farrell admits.

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"And then to come back and get my first cap (against Fiji) and get my first game in the Six Nations.

"Every time I look at those milestones, I reflect on it and think, 'I never thought this would happen'.

"It has kept that portfolios of 'never thought it would happen' growing to this point. Hopefully that continues and I can make more of those.

"It's been an unbelievable journey. It really makes the decision to come back to Ireland worthwhile.

"I learned so much in France. It was all down to game-time. You don't learn unless you are playing, being put in situations you are uncomfortable with, learning on the go.

"That was massive in the making of me. I always consider my time in France the part of my career which made me who I am today."

While he was playing in France, Schmidt would regularly offer Farrell feedback on his game and where he felt he could improve.

It was all part of the long game because before he knew it, Farrell was back in Ireland and pushing for a place on the plane to Japan. Much like Farrell's journey up to now, however, it hasn't all been plain sailing since he returned to these shores.

Injuries have stalled his progress, yet the powerful midfielder has invariably caught the eye most times he has played for Munster or Ireland.

Days after being named man of the match on his Six Nations debut last year, Farrell damaged his ACL in an innocuous incident at an open training session, which cost him more time on the sideline. In another strange twist of fate, a team-mate's dad delivered the bad news.

"I remember being in Santry (Sports Clinic)," he recalls. "I wasn't planning on getting it scanned at all. I thought it was just a really small niggle. Afterwards I was like, 'Okay, I'll go and get a scan'.

"Then Luke McGrath's father (Frank) came in and told me that it was torn and that I would have to get an operation. I wasn't expecting that at all, so it was a massive kick in the teeth. It took me a while to get over it.

"The lads were going on a social because it was a week off, they were going for a bit of grub that evening. I just drove to Limerick. I remember sitting in the house going, 'What?'

"I went in to talk Johann van Graan because he always has something good to say about things and a way with words. I chatted to him briefly in the HPC in Munster and then went home. I was distraught for a while."

It was another unwanted reminder of how quickly your luck can change, but having made a full recovery, Farrell bounced back again and impressed enough to force his way into the World Cup squad. He owes a lot to Grenoble and the chance they gave him, while Schmidt has also played a key role in turning him into the player he is today.

"I was well aware of what camp was going to be like, chatting to all the lads from Munster," Farrell adds.

"Joe has a reputation with players for all of that. But I probably didn't think it was going to be as intense.

"You do something in training and, at the start, I didn't know how to deal with things as well as I could have. I would be thinking straight away, 'Ah no, that's going to come up in the review later'.

"I would have had this image in my head of watching it later in the review in front of the whole team, going, 'What was I doing there?' As you spend more time in the environment, you learn to deal with those things better."

Farrell's career to date has been a lesson in how to deal with setbacks and come out the other side.

He may have taken the long road to get here, but now that the World Cup has arrived, Farrell is determined to make the most of his opportunity.

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