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'We are all looking forward to a clean slate with Ireland'

Chris Farrell is hoping to bounce back from the pain of Munster’s Champions Cup exit and Ireland’s dismal World Cup.

Chris Farrell (far right) dejected after Munster lose to Racing.
Chris Farrell (far right) dejected after Munster lose to Racing.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

THERE WERE THIN scars scratched onto his face, a gift from an opponent’s hand. A small gash had opened on his knee, another legacy of last weekend in Paris. Chris Farrell was hurting but the pain had little to do with the bruises on his body.

By now, the ferocity of last Sunday’s 39-22 defeat to Racing is receding into memory. Dictaphones, notebooks and a place in the Champions Cup quarter-finals disappeared a week ago and all he can do is look back on the result with a blunt honesty.

“You don’t want to sit in your house all day after losing a game like that,” he says. “You need to get out and about, get into town. People (in Limerick) are supportive; they approach you. I’ve never encountered any animosity whatsoever here, so I have no nervousness about how people will react but that does not stop you feeling awkward when people say ‘hard luck’ and stuff like that.

virimi-vakatawa-with-munsters-chris-farrell Munster lost their grip on the Champions Cup last Sunday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I don’t know how to describe it; it’s not a feeling of guilt. That’s too strong a word. But you feel you’ve not just let yourself and your team down because this club represents an awful lot of people that you wouldn’t think about.

“So, this is not just about you. The club isn’t just this building we are in, a gym, a dressing room and a training pitch. The club is everyone who invests in it; it’s people from the cities, people from every small town, who support us. You want to put things right.”

But they can’t. For just the fourth time in 22 years, Munster won’t be sending a team to the quarter-finals of the European Cup. No colour, noise and spectacle in April, then – just a long period of introspection.

It began last Sunday night. The flight had just taken off and he’d the laptop out, rewinding and fast forwarding to different stages in the game. “You just wish you could reverse a few hours and put yourself back into situations on the pitch, scenarios you think you could have been more influential on,” Farrell says.

“Look, this is the best way of describing it. When you win, you get this feeling. I don’t even know how to describe it fully but dressing rooms are a whole lot louder; some lads ecstatic, some quiet but you can still sense their satisfaction. You have this bond. We sing our song, Stand Up and Fight. You enjoy those moments so much, you crave them again and again.

“But lose ….. ah….. it’s so different. Look, you wouldn’t take it back for a second, the chance to have this career. We hate losing but you love being in a position where you get the chance to compete again.”

That chance comes today. It’s Ospreys (kick off 1pm, BT Sport), his final game before he packs his suitcase, loads the boot and drives up to Carton House for the next couple of months.

On the way up, he will reflect back to another plane journey between Ireland and France, except this time he was on a one-way ticket. At Ulster, things hadn’t worked out; his career threatening to end before it had even kicked off. He had this chance; Grenoble. His parents had asked him if he was sure, in the way concerned parents always do.

And he was, doubt only surfacing when the stewardess pressed the fasten-your-seatbelt button. “There and then, I remember thinking, what am I doing here? This (leaving Ulster to play professionally in France) is a risk. But I felt I needed to take it.”

If leaving Belfast was scary, then leaving Grenoble three years later was a whole lot different. Things had happened for him there, his career taking off, friendships forming.  “A lot of guys there were like me, fellas who’d gone there in search of a break. The league suited my style of play. I was really comfortable there. Leaving was emotional.”

But again, he didn’t really have a choice, relegation forcing Grenoble’s hand. He admits players become desensitized to the constant change; the annual round of keep-in-touch conversations when contracts aren’t renewed and bags are packed.

Yet there’s a sentimental side to him, too. He’s from Fivemiletown, a small village in Tyrone and when he was selected for Ireland’s World Cup squad, a good few minutes were spent staring at his kit, the official logo, Japan 2019. Friends sent him WhatsApp videos of all the good-luck signs posted around the village.

chris-farrell-passes-to-luke-mcgrath Farrell in action for Ireland during the World Cup. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Every time I play, I feel I’m doing it for the people of Fivemiletown and Clogher Valley,” he says. “Yeah I know that might sound a bit ….. and I know it puts extra weight on your shoulders when it comes to pressure but when you’re from a small place, you’re proud of that. You want to do your home-place proud.”

The trouble is he’s had few chances. Two-and-a-bit years have brought just nine international caps, a few minor injuries, one major one. In the space of one week, he went from making his Six Nations debut against Wales, winning the man of the match award and then suffering a cruciate knee injury.

“I do feel it could have been very different (for me with Ireland) if that hadn’t have happened. As a player, you always back yourself and you just crave opportunity. I feel if I could get a few runs of games, I could put my best foot forward. Consistency in one area, one position, can do a lot for a player. I know it won’t be easy because a lot of centres are playing really well.”

Still, there’s excitement. After Ospreys today, he’ll be in the car tomorrow, Monday being the first day of spring in rugby terms.

Everything about this week seems new, Joe Schmidt going, Andy Farrell stepping up. “In that first camp (a two-day get-together prior to Christmas), it did feel different, like a fresh start. Playing styles will change I feel and I’ve no doubt Andy Farrell will want to put his stamp on the culture, and how the team amalgamate together. He’s an extremely strong character, one of these people who can fill the room with his presence but who fills people with confidence.

“He’s assertive, a big personality. When he makes a decision on something, he leaves you in no doubt about what he wants. It’s exciting. 

“I just think that improvements in the squad will happen naturally. There are new members in the squad, new coaching staff members too so I don’t necessarily feel we will be looking back to fix (the things that went wrong in Japan). We’ll be looking to create a new identity with a fresh outlook and a clean slate.”

MUNSTER

15. Mike Haley
14. Andrew Conway
13. Chris Farrell
12. Rory Scannell
11. Calvin Nash
10. JJ Hanrahan
9. Conor Murray

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Niall Scannell
3. Stephen Archer
4. Fineen Wycherley
5. Billy Holland
6. Peter O’Mahony (c)
7. Jack O’Donoghue
8. CJ Stander

Replacements: 

16. Kevin O’Byrne
17. Jeremy Loughman
18. John Ryan
19. Arno Botha
20. Jack O’Sullivan
21. Craig Casey
22. Ben Healy
23. Dan Goggin

OSPREYS

15. Cai Evans
14. Hanno Dirksen
13. George North
12. Dan Evans
11. Luke Morgan
10. Luke Price
9. Shaun Venter

1. Nicky Smith
2. Scott Otten
3. Ma’afu Fia
4. Bradley Davies
5. Alun Wyn-Jones
6. Dan Lydiate
7. Justin Tipuric (captain)
8. Dan Baker

Replacements:

16. Sam Perry
17. Darryl Marfo
18. Gheorghe Gajion
19. Lloyd Ashley
20. Olly Cracknell
21. Sam Cross
22. Reuben Morgan Williams
23. Lesley Klim

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