Andrew Conway pictured at the Budweiser Combine event.
ready for the call

'You never know how things will work out' - Andrew Conway not giving up on World Cup dream

The Munster winger was called into Ireland camp last month as he steps up his return from a knee injury.

ANDREW CONWAY HAS been Irish rugby’s forgotten man over the last year. You have to go all the way back to March 2022 for his last apperance in an Ireland jersey, and June 2022 for his most recent Munster outing.

What’s happened in between has been the stuff of nightmares for any winger with World Cup ambitions, knee surgery last June followed by a second procedure in January – a full year out of the game for a winger who had been a central part of the plan with both Munster and Ireland.

Thankfully for Conway, there is now light at the end of the tunnel. The 32-year-old is feeling good and talking optimistically about the future as he steps up his return, which took an interesting twist last month.

After an initial call from Ireland head coach Andy Farrell to inform Conway he was not part of his 42-man pre-World Cup training squad, the winger was called into camp to take part in training as an unofficial squad member. 

That squad was whittled down to 38 players on Wednesday and while Conway’s name is not on the list, he’s not yet given up on the idea of lining out for Ireland in France. More on that later, but first, Conway sheds some light on his year on the sidelines.

“It’s the first big block of rugby I’ve missed in my professional career,” he explains.

andrew-conway Conway last played for Ireland in March 2022. Andrew Fosker / INPHO Andrew Fosker / INPHO / INPHO

“So listen, it’s been tough. And I think probably the toughest part was between that first and second operation because I had way more bad days than I had good days within that first operation. The second operation, since then, it’s been predominantly good days.

“So it’s been tough 100%, But you know what, I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to put things in perspective a lot. My injury lifespan has essentially been the exact same as my daughter’s lifespan. Our first child was born at the end of March 2022, and I played my last game against England in the middle of March. I had a couple of games with Munster at the end of that year but I wasn’t necessarily fit for them.

“So when you try and look at the positives, you don’t just look at your professional career, you look at everything that goes into it, your personal life is more important than your professional career.

“Obviously I would have loved to be in New Zealand, I would have loved to be involved in a Grand Slam, etc, and with Munster going away to South Africa and how we won it (URC) last year, they would all have been amazing things to be involved in.

“So it’s not glossing over them and pretending to myself that I wouldn’t have loved that, but it’s also finding and framing it in a way that is the most healthy for me, and to have been around for my daughter’s first 18 months without any real time away has been a massive positive.”

Over the past few weeks and months Conway has stepped up his rehabilitation, doing enough to get in a position where he could come back into Ireland camp. He’s currently back training with Munster, out of sight, but not out of mind – with Farrell and the Ireland coaches keeping an eye on the data being sent back.

andrew-conway Conway is currently in pre-season training with Munster. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

When he was fit and firing, Conway was a trusted member of Farrell’s Ireland team – starting three games in the 2022 Six Nations (including a two-try display against Wales) – before a troublesome knee problem proved too much to play through, although it wasn’t Conway who eventually made that call. 

Conway highlights an important intervention from Farrell during that 2022 Six Nations, and how the trust he places in the Ireland head coach eased the disappointment of not making the World Cup training squad.

“You know, he’s the best coach in the world in my opinion,” Conway says.

“The best coach I’ve ever had, so as disappointed as you are at the time (to not make the squad), I know that they know what they’re doing. You know what I mean? They really really do know what they’re doing.

You look at the selections that they’ve made over the number of years, they get nearly everything right.

“Like, he took me out of the Scotland match in the 2022 Six Nations… So we beat England in Twickenham and then we were playing Scotland the next week.

“On the Sunday after the England match I came back into camp and the knee was in a terrible way to be fair, but as an athlete you can get yourself into these places where you can dig in so deep at times, and you’re going to pay a price for it after the fact but that’s not what you’re thinking then and there.

andy-farrell Conway rates Andy Farrell as the best coach in the world. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“He pulled me aside on the Sunday and said ‘Listen, your knee is not good, we’re putting you into a hole which we don’t know how deep it is.’ And I pleaded with him to let me play. I’ve never got so emotional over a selection decision in my life. 

“I was in a really heightened state of, not awareness, but just digging in and not accepting that my body was letting me down.

Why I mention that is when I look back, if I played in that Scottish match that could have ended my career, the knee was that bad. 

“He understood what was going on. He understood what I was doing and he understood that that wasn’t in my best interest, and pulled me.”

Conway is still hopeful of another call from Farrell, but accepts a role at the World Cup is probably a long shot. Still, stranger things have happened, so for now he’s cracking on with getting himself in the best shape possible in case the phone does ping.

“I feel like I’ve jumped straight back into it at a higher level than I’ve actually ever been at before, which is really pleasing and I think it comes back to the focus and the intent and the energy you bring everyday.

“That’s my end of the deal at the moment – just working away and detaching from whether the World Cup happens for me or not. That’s completely and utterly out of my control at the moment. The only thing in my control is what I do every day, how I’m preparing mentally and physically you know, both for if I do go to the World Cup, that I need to be 100% ready – which is obviously looking unlikely at the moment, but sport is funny, you never know how things will work out.

“So I’ve got to almost prepare in two different ways where if that call does come at any stage for any reason, that I’m 100% ready to go in there and perform at a higher level than I’ve ever performed at, and if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t and I’ve done everything I could to put myself ready and available.

“And listen, whenever you do that, everything becomes a bit easier to deal with because you look yourself in the mirror, you know you’ve controlled all the controllables and you know it just passed you by, and that’s life.

“There’s other things going on in my life that are amazing, and you lean on them more and more and you put things in perspective and you realize that life is good, you know?”

Budweiser is the official beer partner of the Aer Lingus College Football Classic which returns to the Aviva Stadium on August 26th.

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