Sean Cronin, like many players in the 45-man Ireland training squad, will be desperate to put his best foot forward in the coming weeks so to secure his ticket to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Hooker is one of the most competitive positions in the squad and besides captain Rory Best’s almost guaranteed inclusion, there will be a battle among Cronin, Niall Scannell and Rob Herring for the remaining berths.
Assuming Joe Schmidt takes three hookers as he did in 2015, one of Scannell, Herring and Cronin will be left disappointed come September.
Cronin has amassed 68 caps for Ireland in his career so far but many of them have come from the replacements bench. Due to the Limerick man’s explosive power and pace, he is often considered as the ideal impact player.
This opinion is held so strongly, not just by Schmidt but by previous Irish head coaches, that Cronin only made his first-ever start in a Six Nations match this year.
That cap came in Ireland’s third match against Italy, a game where they limped over the finish line with a 26-16 victory.
Unfortunately for Cronin, the lineout malfunctioned that day and the hooker often shoulders most of the blame despite there being many contributing factors to a functioning setpiece – the call, the timing of the jump, movement of the pods – all of these are outside of the 33-year-old’s control.
However, Cronin departed the field after 54 minutes and was subsequently dropped for the two remaining games against France and Wales as Rob Herring was drafted in.
Speaking to the media last week, Cronin explained that he needs to put in a positive showing during Ireland’s warm-up games and acknowledges that an improvement on his Italy performance is required.
“I’m just trying to put in as much effort as I can,” Cronin said.
“If I get an opportunity in those games, I know it’s going to be a limited window for me to play well and I probably have to do a bit more than I did the last game. It’s going to be a big opportunity for me if I get the chance.”
The Leinster hooker isn’t too focussed on his previous performance in a green shirt, rather, he’s adopting the mentality that you need to improve game-on-game, regardless if you performed well or not.
“I suppose as a professional you always have a point to prove. That’s kind of the way I’ve been looking at things. You need to have that bouncebackability. That’s the great thing about professional sport, hopefully, get another chance and if things don’t work out, put the wrongs right and that’s all you can do.”
Currently, the players are on a ‘down week’ after taking part in an intensive four-week block which primarily focussed on strength and conditioning work. Cronin describes this period as one of the toughest of his professional career.
“That first week in Carton House was one of the toughest weeks I’ve put down since I’ve been a professional. It has been challenging, but enjoyable as you can see yourself getting the gains as the weeks go on. Everyone seems to be pretty happy at the way we’re going.”
Next week, the squad will reconvene at the new IRFU facilities in Abbotstown where the rugby side of preparations will begin to take centre stage.
This will coincide with Ireland’s first warm-up game, against Italy, being just two weeks away and Cronin says the squad knows what’s at stake as the pressure ramps up on their opportunities to impress.
“Everyone is looking forward to that first warm-up game and putting the work you’ve done into practice I suppose. That Abbotstown week is going to be big in terms of building the set-piece and breakdown.
“It’s going to come around pretty quickly. Any guys who get an opportunity to play in that is going to be a massive chance to put their first stamp on trying to get selected for Japan.”