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Dublin: 12 °C Sunday 21 October, 2018

Ireland omission a kick in the teeth for Cronin but hooker ready if Joe calls again

“Deep down, at the end of the day, I think I am good enough to get back in.”

Cronin speaking to the media earlier in the week.
Cronin speaking to the media earlier in the week.
Image: Ben Whitley/INPHO

“I KNEW THAT was coming up,” smiles Sean Cronin as he sits down at the top of the press conference room at Leinster’s UCD headquarters.

It’s the first time the hooker has spoken to the media since his much-talked about, and surprise, omission from Ireland’s November Test squad, so inevitably the topic of conversation revolves around that.

“I haven’t spoken to Joe since November,” Cronin says.

“At the time it was just that he thought that I didn’t hit the ground running at the start of the season, which was probably fair enough, and other guys had played well.”

Up until last month, Cronin had virtually been an ever-present under Schmidt as he won 29 caps as back-up to Rory Best, and rewind 12 months ago and he was even been talked about as a potential tourist with the Lions.

Injury struck in January of last year as a hamstring tear ruled him out of the Six Nations and ruined the second half of his season with both Leinster and Ireland.

But with Niall Scannell, the man who benefitted from Cronin’s layoff last term, sidelined for the recent November series with a finger problem, it was widely expected that the 31-year-old would slot back into Schmidt’s plans for the Tests against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina.

“I felt that I was coming back after basically nine months injured,” he continues. “I’d my hamstring and then I had my neck, I probably wasn’t given much wiggle-room, but I probably didn’t hit the ground running so…

“That’s what was said to me, there wasn’t anything else in the conversation.”

There was a recall for Ulster’s Rob Herring at Cronin’s expense, while James Tracy — behind the Limerick native in the Leinster pecking order — was included after his involvement in the summer tour to USA/Japan.

Overall, Cronin has tried to put a positive spin on it. Time away from Carton House allowed him to build up his fitness with Leinster and get valuable minutes under his belt in the Pro14 before the Champions Cup double-header against Exeter Chiefs.

“I think I’m nearly there,” he continues. “Obviously I can play a lot better, but I think I’ve gradually (done that). The only thing was that November block gave me a chance to get a bit fitter, which I did.

Sean Cronin Cronin starts Monday's inter-pro derby against Connacht. Source: Ben Whitley/INPHO

“It gave me a chance to get some game time with Leinster against the Dragons, Treviso and that got me ready and got me in for the Champions Cup games. It’s had it’s positives, and given me a bit of a kick that I needed.”

But the 56-time capped international doesn’t see this as the end of the road for him in an Ireland jersey — and there’s certainly no bitterness or resentment towards what has happened.

“No, not really, no,” he says, when asked if he felt like throwing the TV out the window when he saw Herring come on against South Africa to score a try. “I am probably a bit too far down in my career to be throwing a TV out the window at this stage.

“I did of course watch the games. I wouldn’t be that bitter, I wouldn’t be watching the Coronation Street omnibus when the Ireland matches are going on. No, I enjoyed it and they did well and that is all they can do.

“Again, I use it more in a positive frame of mind. Deep down, at the end of the day, I think I am good enough to get back in. I know if I can play well, and I can put in the performances here, I think I can do enough to get back in. And hopefully that will happen.”

Plenty of players have worked their way back into the fold under Schmidt, but Cronin — who is out of contract with Leinster this summer — is facing into a crucial period in his career ahead of the Six Nations.

“If I can hit my form and get playing right I’d love to be pushing further, obviously, but I still think I can definitely do that [get back for the Six Nations].

“I’ve got to play well in the next few weeks in these big games. It’s a good opportunity to put myself back in their thoughts. It’s as simple as that. I’d love to be involved and get back in their thoughts for the Six Nations.”

First up for Cronin is the New Year’s Day inter-pro against his former side Connacht as Leinster look to continue their impressive recent form with a sixth straight victory across the Pro14 and Champions Cup.

Sean Cronin receives medical attention Cronin last his two front teeth against Exeter. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The hooker has been recalled as one of 13 changes Leo Cullen has made from the side which defeated Munster at Thomond Park on St Stephen’s Day and is a welcome return to the team for Cronin after suffering a nasty injury against Exeter last time out.

An accidental clash with Chiefs flanker Don Armand during the brutal Champions Cup pool clash earlier this month left Cronin with both his front teeth smashed.

“Eating turkey out of the side of your mouth is not ideal, like,” he jokes.

“I’m seeing him again today [the specialist after the procedure] and still trying to talk properly with them. It’s not ideal, like but part and parcel of it. Some of the lads have actually been slagging me about it, saying I look a bit better with then news ones now than I did.

“One of them is still loose so I still don’t know what’s going to happen there. That’s the sore one, it could be coming out. The other one isn’t too bad.”

Even though it’s six years since he left Galway to move east to Leinster, Monday’s fixture is one which still resonates with Cronin a bit more.

“There are still a few lads knocking around down there that were there when I was there, playing. Sure, all these inter-pro derbies are competitive and great to play in. I heard Leo said at the weekend because there were 12 changes, a lot of these guys coming in, you saw what it meant to them to get that big opportunity.

“A lot of us will come back in now after the huge performances from the likes of the guys, to play against Connacht in a huge inter-pro at home.

“I am really looking forward to it, even if it was Munster or Ulster, it would be the same thing.”

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