Tadhg Beirne: ‘Processing those negative thoughts is still an issue for sure’

Ireland and Munster secondrow still showing the self-belief that resurrected his career

Bright sunshine splashes around the Aviva Stadium for an open Irish training session and Tadhg Beirne’s body is holding up nicely.

“For the minute anyway,” quips the secondrow. He is about to point the car towards Castletroy in Limerick, the city’s rugby central. Like the weather Beirne is energised and conversational.

It’s a little different from the image you might take from television; Beirne submerging himself in a ruck and surfacing with the steal to the backdrop of a back slapping rhumba from the players. Beirne typically turns with the ball in his hand sober and expressionless, game faced.

Another of the endless mini battles won and maybe another moment of swing. It’s the cost of the job he does for the Irish team, quartering the hit zones, stopping and bending into the wreckage of a breakdown and ripping away.

“You’d see a lot of lads that don’t often go in and certainly hurt themselves,” he says. “It’s something you need to practice. But a lot of it is instinct. We have a saying ‘if you have thought about it, then it’s too late’. You have to see the picture and go for it. I’ve been injured in there. It’s a very vulnerable position trying to get over a ball, when you have two, three, four lads coming in.”

Today he is cheery and healthy and in the run-in to England next weekend playing some of the most eye-catching rugby of his career. Beirne has been an influencer and player of the match so frequently now that his kit bag must reek of Prosecco Frizzante.

So, it seems like a good time. Tadhg, Sean O'Brien said at Leinster you were a pain in the hole. Obviously that's a compliment. After a short silence there is the low rumble of laughter from the Munster and Ireland lock.

“Me and Seanie,” he says. “When I was in Leinster, he would have been in the team all the time and I was in the bibs preparing the first team for the game at the weekend.

“I guess I used to probably train quite hard, make life difficult for them around the ruck area. Yeah, I think from that moment on I was a pain in his arse in terms of the ruck.”

For a secondrow, O’Brien’s lavish praise is a standout recommendation to have on a CV. Although these days Beirne is carving out his own body of work as the cut loose Leinster lock - who built his game in Scarlets and Munster - strong enough for the Lions.

Highs and Lows

His career went from high and promising to low and unpromising to its present stratospheric with himself and Josh van der Flier the outstanding performers for Ireland in this Six Nations Championship.

It has been a journey of self discovery for Beirne, who almost stopped playing when there were no offers on his kitchen table in Eadestown, county Kildare. For that final doleful season with Leinster he had moved back to living at home to ruminate on an alternative life.

For the emotional beating that year gave him, his mother Brenda had a front row seat.

“I think for a long time my mum was on the side of caution,” he says. “She had seen how difficult mentally I had it. Then, when I was injured there was the difficulty of not being selected and not getting that much game time when I was selected.

“All these things play a part. I lived at home for my last year with Leinster. She probably saw the highs and lows. She would have been one of the people to question whether I should take one more crack at it.

“At the time she was the voice of reason, trying to reason with me to say that maybe it might not be such a great decision. Then when I made the decision (to go to Scarlets), she 100 per cent backed me.’”

It was a throw of the dice. Finishing off a Masters degree and from the comfort of a suit and salary, the realisation he had denied himself an opportunity to tilt the axis of his rugby world would have hurt. So he reached out and took it.

“Give up rugby, yeah it was very serious,” he says. “I wasn’t being offered a contract in Leinster. I didn’t have any options. So it was kinda like if nothing comes then I’ll pack it in and focus on the Masters and a career outside of rugby.

“It is, can be, one of the biggest issues in rugby, the mental side. People don’t see it when you aren’t getting selected and you are going through injuries. You certainly have battles with yourself.

“Processing those battles and negative thoughts, it’s still an issue for sure. It’s certainly one I had. I doubted myself. I doubted my ability at times. Ultimately I felt I had a bit more to give, a bit more to prove.”

From his position now of a player beating a straight path towards iconic status, it’s a comforting thought that Beirne once doubted himself. It’s the comfort of lost causes not always being lost and the base metals of self belief, perseverance and work ethic turning to gold.

As he sees it now, the fresh start also gave him wings. Grounded in Leinster and the academy for so long, he felt “the coaches and everyone” seemed to form a perceived “conception of you, you as a person, or you as you play.”

“I think things do happen for a reason,” he says.

“The contract was a one plus one. I didn’t have a choice in the second year. I knew if I wasn’t playing much they’d release me. I’d know at that point then that I wasn’t good enough to be a professional rugby player.

“Along with luck, I didn’t allow anything to pass me by. I knew my detail. I was ready. That was a big thing. Fate yeah, maybe, that I got the chance.”

He is far from the player resurrected in Wales. Munster and more recently Irish head coach Andy Farrell have seen to that. When he talks of freshness and new eyes, Farrell has been like a second wave washing over him.

He has been offering a game in which they all feel involved in a common purpose, a lot of it revolving around being physically fit and mentally tough.

“For sure, Faz has had a massive effect,” says Beirne. “The style of rugby we are playing, it’s quite simple. You are involved in everything.

“Faz puts a lot of pressure on us to be fit but also to be mentally fit, not switching off. Under Schmidt we always talked about moments and not losing moments and Faz has brought that on, in that every play, every phase there is an opportunity to become involved.

“The pressure is on us to get into position and make ourselves useful, whether it’s running a line or getting your hands on the ball whatever. You feel you are involved. Even if you don’t have the ball you are having an impact. It has taken time for everyone to understand and see what he sees.”

It has always been the next training session, the next selection, the next match. Career and injury has told him as much. But Beirne understands players are also allowed to set ambition and dream.

“Ultimately I want to get to the World Cup,” he says. “I want to be on that plane. I want to get to a final of the World Cup and win it. I believe this squad, we have the potential to do that. The more I play with them the more I believe it.”

Why not, belief had got him to where he is.