Monday 23 July 2018

Closer Cronin determined not to be second best

Ireland's Sean Cronin. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Ireland's Sean Cronin. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

There is no substitute for hard work and no substitute who works harder than Seán Cronin.

Except don't tell him he's a substitute. Or an impact player. Or a replacement for that matter. Finishers, the mot du jour, as coined by Eddie Jones, might suffice. A bit more prestigious, that.

"I don't know, I might have a word with the press guy here and see if we can put finishers or something," he laughs.

Even the playbill sets the stall out; all the starters are lined up in broad, sweeping capital letters; the eight, erm, replacements, forlornly bereft of such eloquent grandeur.

"It really annoys me the fact that all the lads' names are really big and then the replacements are tiny at the bottom.

"I might have to get that… if the names were a small bit bigger I'd be happier with that."

Rory Best, captain, is this team's Hamlet; Cronin a mere gravedigger, it seems. The sub teacher always waiting for the call.

This Saturday will mark the 28th successive occasion - when he has been fit and ready to start, or at least finish - that the Limerick native has been named on the bench.

Such is the life of the perennial understudy. Always second in line for his country, even if never content to remain second best.

So devoted is English head coach Jones' faith in his finishers, even the official RFU team-sheet lists them as such.

"I find it funny. Good old Eddie. It makes a bit of sense, doesn't it? That's something that we're looking for here. That's what we're trying to provide for him. For guys that are coming off the bench just to fit in and add value."

Cronin always comes off the bench when he is on it and always adds value, of that there is little doubt.

Of course, he would dearly cherish starting; not necessarily a sniping figure, waiting in the wings waiting for the lead actor to be struck down by a sudden attack of glandular fever.

Then again, even when Best was injured and broke his sequence of 52 successive starts two springs ago, cruel fate decreed that the 'second Best' would also be ruled out when he ripped his hamstring clean off the bone.

Even his status as second man in has not always been franked; he has been peremptorily culled from a Six Nations squad the week after a typically barrelling bench effort.

He has been dropped similarly during the middle of a World Cup tournament. Still, he soldiers selflessly on.

Last November, during a time when he normally hoovers up those cherished starting slots with his name in lights, he was omitted from the squad entirely. Not even third choice, ye gods!

"I held my hands up and said the other guys who got it were playing better rugby than me at the time," says the player whose 58-cap career features just nine starts, six of them in the first two years of a fine international career.

"I suppose other guys could have - maybe not used it as a negative and sulked - but I said to myself, use this as a positive. Get fit. Get back playing."

You suggest, colloquially, it might have been a well-directed kick to his rear end. He agrees.

"I think it was. They were pretty honest. They said, 'Look, we just didn't think you hit the ground running, you haven't been playing too well whereas other guys were playing really well'.

"It was a good motivator for me to get out there. I was disappointed but then you have got to be honest with yourself.

"You could have went away and said, 'Ah, what about my experience?' But at the end of the day it is about performance and guys are performing better than me."

Hinted

Burning Bundee Aki in a league game, for one, hinted he was on the right track. A familiar fast one.

"Bundee's eyes lit up a small bit when I tried to take him on the outside. He had a word with me after the match. 'Don't ever do that to me again.' So he wasn't too happy with me!"

His willing, positive nature trumps any doubt.

"I suppose when you're younger, you see yourself as the starter and that's all you have in your head.

"Then you turn your focus, that they're putting their cards on you to come on and do well and provide the pressure moments that are going to contribute to the squad going well.

"The quicker that you can get your head around that and buy into that philosophy and be the squad and team player then the happier that you'll be in yourself and the better that you'll perform.

"There's nothing more rewarding than coming on with 10 or 15 minutes to go against France and you've learned your roles, you do everything right, you clean out the last ruck, back to Johnny."

And the rest is history. And his story. Even if best remains immoveable.

"Yeah, he does not look like he is going any time soon, so I will probably have a word with him!"

Cronin's patience abides. The ultimate closer. There's no substitute for that.

Irish Independent

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