Sunday 15 September 2019

Why Devin Toner's laid-back attitude means he will be ready if he is called upon

When Rúaidhrí O'Connor sat down with the lock last month, Japan still held promise for the Irish stalwart

Devin Toner at home with his son Max. Photo: © Fran Veale
Devin Toner at home with his son Max. Photo: © Fran Veale

DEVIN TONER was taking nothing for granted when we met in July. With typical humility, every answer to a question about Japan and the upcoming Rugby World Cup was couched in the terms of if, not when.

Even at that remove, the Ireland second-row knew that there were no guarantees in professional sport. That a hatful of caps and a string of consistent performances can count for little when a coach makes his final call.

This week, the 6ft 11ins lock from Moynalvey, Co Meath has been the centre of attention and, while he has always stood out from the crowd, he won't have enjoyed the spotlight.

He has kept his public interactions to a single Tweet on Tuesday, 24 hours after Joe Schmidt confirmed the 33-year-old would not be going to Japan.

"Obviously gutted not to be on the plane, thanks to everyone for their kind messages. Best of luck to all the lads involved," he wrote, signing off with a thumbs-up emoji.

Given the unforgiving nature of the job he's in, Toner may well still play a role at the World Cup.

He remains just one injury away from taking his place.

For much of his career, the Meathman has not had to worry much about that side of the game himself and, as he reflected quietly this week, he'll have cursed the timing of his first two serious knocks as a senior professional.

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

In February, he went over on his ankle after a lineout against England and did enough damage to merit an operation.

After he'd returned to play a part in Leinster's Champions Cup final defeat to Saracens, he hurt his knee in a tackle against Munster in the PRO14 semi-final win that put him on the back foot in pre-season.

Still, when we met near his Dublin 8 home in the early stages of pre-season to do a interview that was due to published in the days before the World Cup, Toner was positive about his recovery and looking forward to the challenge ahead. Not that watching the team from afar was an easy experience to endure.

"At the early part of it, I enjoyed the bit of a break because I hadn't had one in years.

"But when it came to watching the Six Nations games, I didn't really like that," Toner concedes.

"Seeing us not doing great, I didn't like that. I didn't mind the break from training but I didn't like missing the final against Glasgow."

It's an experience he will have to deal with again this month, but it's hard to see him sitting seething on his couch when the action begins.

We spoke at length about Toner's laid-back nature and how it has helped him during a career when things didn't always go his way.

"I had my period when I wasn't getting picked. I had a handful of caps for Leinster and Ireland, then didn't get picked for a while. That all added to where I am now," he said.

"No one's career is going to be James Ryan's. Apart from a handful, no one is going to be on top of their game for their whole careers.

"It just adds to my story - it's something you have to do. At the start, everyone has their deficits and stuff they've to work on. You know you have to do it and you just get on with it, really.

"I think being laid-back has helped me mentally: I don't fret too much about the little stuff.

"Even with a bad loss, obviously it does hurt, but I don't fret about it as much as others would.

"I think that's just my nature. I grew up like that. I take things in my stride.

"Rugby is all about the next job; you can't look back at all. Especially playing a game, what's done is done. For example, you can't change a ref's decision, you can't do anything. It's next job or the next game."

His next game will not be where he thought it would be, but once the wounds have healed, Toner will reset his goals, as he always has done throughout his career.

"And what a career it has been, regardless of this week's disappointment.

A popular figure at Leinster, his team-mates will provide support in the coming days and weeks as he re-focuses his aims.

And if Ireland do call, he'll be ready and waiting to stand tall once again.

Indo Sport

The Throw-In: Selection dilemma for Dublin and All-Ireland ladies football final preview

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Also in Sport