Seán Cronin determined to help Ireland over finish line

Hooker beginning to appreciate bench role after missing out on squad in autumn

Ireland’s Seán Cronin is tackled by Mattia Bellini during the convincing Six Nations win against  Italy. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Ireland’s Seán Cronin is tackled by Mattia Bellini during the convincing Six Nations win against Italy. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Sometimes the answer can be found by looking in the mirror, so to speak. All the feedback in the world will not make one iota of difference unless it finds a receptive vessel. Listening is fine but it’s important to hear what’s been said, however uncomfortable.

Seán Cronin was omitted from the Ireland squad for the November Test series, form and fitness the criteria, when weighed against the merits of other candidates. The Leinster hooker accepted the decision and resolved that next time around he wouldn’t be found wanting.

Playing and training with Leinster allowed him a vehicle but it was his attitude that underpinned a route back into the Ireland squad by the time the Six Nations rolled into view. He could have thumbed through a few excuses, sought some mitigation in a nine-month layoff through injury but instead addressed the issues.

“I probably didn’t hit the ground running at the start of the season, through a lack of match time and fitness. I held my hands up and said the other guys who got it were playing better rugby than me at the time. And 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. I had a bit of game time with Leinster.

“I set myself the goal of getting back into the squad and I achieved that, got a couple of caps, I thought I was playing well. That is all I can do from a personal point of view. It is all about getting my match fitness.”

There was no ambiguity in the message. “They [the coaches] 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 gone away and said ‘ah, what about my experience?’ But at the end of the day it is about performance and guys were performing better than me.”

Cronin focused on his fitness, a positive mindset, putting the onus on himself to deal with the shortcoming in performance terms. His form for Leinster, particularly in the Champions Cup matches was a conduit back into the national squad.

He came on in the fraught endgame against France and also last time out in the victory over Italy. He understands the dynamic within the squad in understudying the captain Rory Best. Maturity has taught him that everyone must contribute when called upon, irrespective of the number on the jersey.

“I suppose when you’re younger, you can’t really get your head around that. You maybe see yourself as ‘I want to be the starter’ and that’s all you have in your head. Then you build-up the experience of being involved in squads and being involved in really close games when you’re called for the last 15, 20 minutes.

“You maybe turn your focus [on] 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 happier that you’ll perform. So, it’s probably an age thing and experience thing and just learning to deal with that.

“It’s something the coaches drive down as well on to players and then 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 [Sexton and he drops the goal]. So, it has its negatives and positives, you’ve just got to find the positives in it.”

So would be prefer to be called a “finisher” a label England coach Eddie Jones has adopted? “Good old Eddie, it makes a bit of sense, doesn’t it? I suppose when you’ve got players like Ben Te’o and these guys coming off the bench having such impact, that’s something that we’re looking for here. That’s what Joe [Schmidt] wants and that’s what we’re trying to provide for him; guys that are coming off the bench, to fit in and add value.”

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