JJ Hanrahan has Leinster in his sights and Ireland in his mind
The Kerry man will line out for Northampton against Leinster in the Champions Cup
JJ Hanrahan of Northampton Saints during the Aviva Premiership match between Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images
Apt that this interview was conveyed via conference call. One of the reporters was walking his dog, a canine who understandably barked at squawking seagulls, as a distant Kerry man spoke about unfulfilled potential and ignored promptings about a potential homecoming.
JJ Hanrahan has not been capped. A son of Castleisland, that curious rugby enclave hidden deep in The Kingdom, not so much a town as a street between two fields, as Con Houlihan used to say.
Dodging and weaving Rockwell towards the 2010 Munster schools final, Hanrahan looked every inch a future international. A 10 to sit snug beside fellow Kerry trio Mick Galway, Moss Keane and Mick Doyle.
Calmly slipping into the pivot role for the Ireland under-20s in 2012, when Paddy Jackson was fast-tracked to professional ranks arena by Ulster, he kicked the lights out to defeat the Baby Boks in South Africa and was nominated for Junior World player of the year ahead of Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson.
Clearly, Munster had a gem. Test match honours seemed a mere formality when JJ side-stepped Perpignan fullback Joffrey Michel to secure a dramatic and valuable 19-18 European scalp in Catalan.
That was three years ago next week.
Hints of the complete fly-half package were masked by non-selection. So he moved away to Northampton. The Saints, a serious club with serious money, are experiencing a seriously flawed 2016/17 campaign. Jim Mallinder’s men lie ninth in the Premiership with four wins from 10 matches and on Friday night they must stare down the barrel of European dismissal as Leinster seek to repeat their 2013 party tricks at Franklin’s Gardens (40-7 it finished that night).
Hanrahan is playing again, ran at 12 in the midlands derby against Leicester last weekend (a game that will be remembered for what happened to George North). A preseason ankle injury against Ulster removed his already distant dot from the Joe Schmidt radar. Like Ian Madigan in Bordeaux, the decision to leave home to play rugby, to prove his worth, opened the gate for Joey Carbery. It will also probably see Tyler Bleyendaal enter the test arena before him.
Unless he returns to Limerick and the Erasmus Project this summer.
“I’m not playing for them (Ireland), I don’t really know what to say. Joey is obviously a really, really good player. He has taken his opportunity.”
Hanrahan’s contract is up this summer. His next move will have ramifications not just for himself but Ireland’s outhalf depth chart.
“Nothing has been decided yet to be honest. It’s all still up in the air. Usually (contract discussions) come around in January.
“I just have to get back playing first.”
This past season and a half, he agrees, has not revealed the gifted Kerry man abroad most Irish rugby people expected to see. For one, Stephen Myler hasn’t been shifted from the 10 jersey.
“No, it hasn’t, being frank. I had a very staggered last year, very stop-start performance-wise but there’s definitely more to come from me and I can definitely add a lot more to this team.
“I was flying in pre-season, I’d one of the best pre-seasons I’d ever had and then to pick up an injury 20 minutes out before the season was pretty disheartening.
“But you pick yourself up, dust yourself off.
“I definitely have a lot of ambitions to play well for this club. I’ve high standards personally...I’m driven.”
He sounds older. At least he has returned. Not home, to the rugby field. Robbie Henshaw is his opposite number on Friday, Carbery will be dodging and weaving as Leinster’s 10.
“When you are 14 weeks out of the game it’s not bad playing 12, takes a bit of pressure off you, allows you to focus on yourself.”
Ireland can wait.
“I knew coming over to Northampton that I was going to kind of rule myself out of selection but there’s a longer-term plan in my own head that I’m trying to work towards and hopefully it comes to fruition later on in life.
“I’ve openly said before that I want to play for Ireland, but you have to get to that standard first and you have to be consistent.
“I’ve mentioned stuff about Ireland before and it’s been misconstrued. What I’m trying to do is become the best player I can be, so that if the Irish opportunity ever opens up in the future that then I’m able to take it with both hands. That’s not to say I should be there now, but if it ever opens up I want to be ready to do that.”