THE VAST MAJORITY of people who watched Andrew Conway emerge in underage rugby and then star for the Ireland U20s would have said the Dublin man would make his full senior international debut before the age of 25.
Conway was an incredibly effective at U20 level, in particular, scoring 13 tries in 16 games for Ireland across the course of two seasons.
The former Blackrock College showed his rich promise for Leinster in the Pro12 too, with his pace, footwork and power in contact making him a major attacking threat.
The path seemed to be paved towards senior international honours sooner rather than later, but then things slowed down for Conway. Injuries and a build-up of high-quality back three players at Leinster stymied his growth as a player.
By 2013, he was getting out of his native province and making a move south to Munster. It has taken him almost another four years to finally make his senior Ireland debut, but the hard work has been worth it.
“It’s funny,” said Conway after winning his first Ireland cap in Saturday’s 13-9 win over England in Dublin, “the argument could have been if I stayed there with Joe [Schmidt] being the coach I might have got in, but I’ve never once regretted going to Munster.
It took a bit more faith than I would have hoped, getting capped this late and with the amount of provincial games I have under my belt and watching lads I grew up with playing for Ireland. We got there eventually.”
Having served as Ireland’s 24th man before the win over France in this Six Nations, Conway knew he was close to making Schmidt’s squad, but it was an injury to fullback Rob Kearney that cleared the way for him to be included on the bench last weekend.
Conway then got far longer on the pitch than he had expected, replacing the injured Keith Earls at half time and spending 40 minutes on Ireland’s right wing.
Though he is keen to make up for lost time with Ireland, Conway is also aware that circumstances have fallen in his favour recently.
There is a tour to Japan and the US to come for Ireland in June, but Conway is taking nothing for granted.
“I know it’s there, but that’s about the size of it really. There is ridiculous competition at Munster at the moment in the back three.
“Darren Sweetnam probably would have been in the Irish squad had he not got injured against Leinster. Fortunately for me, it gave me opportunity to get game time in a few big games and they went well.
“We were winning those games. It is a huge thing when someone breaks into a team that the team they are playing in is winning.
A few things fell for me in the last few months, a bit of luck and hard work and grit, I’ve stuck in there. I know it’s there and I’d love to go on it. I have to play in a few big games for Munster in the coming weeks.”
As for the honour of making his debut, Conway was keen to deflect attention towards the collective effort from Ireland that ensured they denied England a Grand Slam on the final day of the Six Nations.
“Getting on the pitch and winning the game, I would have taken your hand off for that at the start of the day,” said Conway.
“It was a bonus to get 40 minutes and have a good involvement as opposed to coming on for two minutes when a game is won, or whatever it might be – you kind of really feel like you are part of it, which is brilliant.”
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