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'I thought the dream had gone' - Farrell earns World Cup spot with Ireland

The Munster midfielder will be competing with Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw in Japan.

Updated Sep 13th 2019, 8:30 AM

CHRIS FARRELL JOKES that he has a strong portfolio of ‘I never thought it would happen’ moments.

A promising midfielder coming through the Ulster and Ireland underage ranks, his development was stunted by repeated injuries, to the point that he departed his native province in 2014 for a fresh start with Top 14 club Grenoble.

“When I went to France, I thought the dream of playing for Ireland had gone,” said Farrell this week before flying out to Japan as part of Joe Schmidt’s 31-man World Cup squad.

chris-farrell Farrell in Grenoble colours against Connacht in 2016. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But Farrell managed to avoid injuries at Grenoble and strung together three impressive seasons in midfield under Bernard Jackman, ‘learning on the go’ and maturing into the powerful presence we see today.

“I always consider my time in France the part of my career which made me who I am today, made me the player I am today.”

Schmidt had been keeping a close eye on Farrell in France, as well as maintaining contact, and a return to Ireland with Munster in 2017 was just reward for his form abroad.

The Ireland debut he had almost given up on duly followed in November 2017 against Fiji, before he was drafted in to replace the injured Robbie Henshaw in Ireland’s first-choice team against Argentina that same month.

“I really enjoyed that,” recalls Farrell. “I came off after about 60 minutes having strained my MCL ligament but for those 60 minutes, I felt really comfortable.

“I was able to deal with everything that was put in front of me, I didn’t feel massively stressed in any situation. I was like, ‘I can deal with this, I can be here. I can just grow and learn.’”

Feeling as though he could lock himself into Schmidt’s plans from there, Farrell got another major opportunity in Ireland’s clash with Wales during their 2018 Grand Slam run – another injury to Henshaw opening the door.

Farrell was immense in delivering a man-of-the-match performance but cruel luck struck again the following week as he suffered a major ACL injury during an open training session against the Ireland U20s.

“You can’t dwell on things for too long but at the time, it was a massive kick in the teeth,” says Farrell, who recalls Luke McGrath’s father, Frank – who works at Santry Sports Clinic – delivering the gut-wrenching news.

joey-carbery-chris-farrell-peter-omahony-and-jacob-stockdale Chris Farrell and Ireland team-mates at the launch of Vodafone's 'Ireland’s Ball'. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I wasn’t even planning on getting it scanned at all, I thought it was just a really small little niggle, but I said, ‘OK, I’ll go to Santry and get a little scan.’

“Then Luke’s father came in and told me that it was torn and that I would have to get an operation. I wasn’t expecting that at all, it took me a while to get over it.”

As the rest of the Ireland squad headed out for a meal in Dublin that evening, Farrell got into his car and headed back down the road to Limerick, where he sat at home and thought, ‘What has just happened?’”

He was “distraught” in the aftermath of the bad news, visiting Johann van Graan at Munster’s training centre “because he always has something good to say about things and a way with words.”

Just everything had seemed to fall into place for him, Farrell had to face into a nine-month recovery, meaning his World Cup prospects were dented at a crucial time as he missed the summer tour of Australia and the 2018 November Test window.

But Schmidt had faith and Farrell returned to the fold again in this year’s Six Nations, making starts against Scotland and Italy. 

Even with a further pair of starts in this summer’s World Cup warm-up games, Farrell was still on tenterhooks before Schmidt confirmed his final 31-man squad.

“That was a long Sunday,” says Farrell of the day the players were informed, “because we certainly weren’t told of when to expect it time-wise, we just knew it was probably going to come before Monday.

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“I was with my girlfriend watching a movie and from about eight until 10 that night, I was just constantly refreshing the screen, checking the phone, watching the phone, watching the clock, trying to figure out whether it was going to come, or when it might come. It was a long, long day.”

chris-farrell-arrives Farrell arriving in Japan on Wednesday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Farrell has no recollection of what movie they watched but when Schmidt had finally put him out of his misery with a congratulatory email, the Fivemiletown man immediately rang his parents.

“They’d been on to me for the last six weeks about whether they should book flights! I had said, ‘No, hold on just in case.’”

With his World Cup dream now realised, Farrell is eager to get onto the pitch as soon as possible.

The Munster man’s qualities make it easy to understand why Schmidt has kept him in the squad whenever available, with Farrell big enough to be a physically impactful figure in midfield but also skillful enough to be a distributor and decoy runner.

With Farrell, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, and Henshaw all in contention in midfield, Schmidt certainly has strong options.

“I suppose that was a massive strength for the squad during that Six Nations campaign last year – no matter who was in, and there was a lot of variance because of the three lads who played at 13, we all did pretty well.

“Hopefully, that will stand to us and we’d be confident that if something happened to someone who was due to start a game… because things will happen with the short turnarounds and it’s going to be an intense time.

“Hopefully, that will give the coaches the confidence to put anyone in there.”

Vodafone has launched Ireland’s Ball, with a bespoke grip containing the fingerprints of 32 people from every county in Ireland. Ireland’s Ball will travel to Japan with the Ireland team as a symbol of the Team Of Us support for Irish Rugby from fans in Ireland and around the world.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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