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'To see the support that the country gave me was really good' - Toner

33-year-old Devin Toner was warmly received by Ireland fans on his return.
Feb 3rd 2020, 1:00 AM 8,417 10

THE CHEER WHEN Devin Toner lumbered onto the pitch in the 67th minute was one of the biggest roars delivered by the Irish crowd during the second half of a shaky Ireland win over Scotland. 

The volume was topped just 30 seconds later, though.

Toner, on in place of Iain Henderson and taking over as Ireland’s lineout caller, strolled towards the set-piece and briefly complained about the Scots closing the gap.

Content at their slight retreat, Toner entered the lineout and simply raised his eyebrows at hooker Rob Herring, the signal to throw directly to him. With Peter O’Mahony and Tadhg Furlong lifting, and Herring nailing his throw, the 6ft 11ins Toner rose to claim the ball overhead.

devin-toner-wins-a-line-out Toner rises to gather an Ireland lineout with his first touch. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It felt familiar and pleasing to the Aviva Stadium crowd, who bellowed their approval. That roar meant more to Toner than the one when he had come on.

“I think I more heard the cheer when I caught the lineout, which was nice,” said the understated and polite Toner.

Of course, most Irish rugby supporters were thrilled for Toner because of the pain he had been dealt with last year when Joe Schmidt left him out of Ireland’s World Cup squad. 

That decision came as a shock to Toner and to those who rated his unglamorous but nonetheless important contributions around the pitch and at the set-piece for Leinster and Ireland.

Here was Toner being given the chance at a bit of redemption. The second row didn’t manage to get a carry in during his 14-minute cameo but he had to make seven tackles as Ireland defended their winning margin in the closing stages.

It felt good to be back out there.

“Obviously, when it happened, you start doubting yourself and saying, ‘Is it me?’” said Toner. “To see the support that the country gave me was really good.

“My personal support network was brilliant, my family was brilliant, my wife was brilliant. To see it all come to fruition in getting back on the pitch was really positive. 

“After the World Cup, I didn’t think that I would be wearing green again. To be able to get the jersey on again is brilliant for me.

devin-toner-with-his-son-max-after-the-game Toner with his son, Max. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I said it – ‘I have put my hand up for selection as much as I can. If I’m selected, I’m selected. If I’m not, I’m happy with how I’m playing.’

“Thank God, I got selected and came on and got another cap.”

33-year-old Toner earned his return the hard way, bouncing back from his World Cup disappointment by putting his head down and impressing for Leinster over the course of 13 appearances.

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While the latest promising young Leinster players have been shining this season, Toner has often been the wise old head in the pack.

“I spoke to my close family, my wife, my mother, my brother, my sister; we are a close family,” said Toner of recovering from the setback.

“After about two or three weeks, I realised that I had a job to do back in Leinster, realised that I was the senior guy back in Leinster and I had to prepare for the start of the season. I played a lot of minutes there.”

Some Ireland fans and several pundits would have Toner in their starting second row alongside Leinster team-mate James Ryan, and head coach Andy Farrell may consider changing things up for the visit of Wales to Dublin on Saturday.

Ireland will certainly need to be considerably better after their shaky 19-12 win over the Scots on Saturday, but they were happy to get their championship underway with a victory.

“First game of the tournament, blowing the cobwebs off a bit, it was a gutsy performance,” said Toner.

“We will obviously get better the more we play together. First off, it was just great to get the win and it was great to get the win here as well. We just have to work on it.”

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Murray Kinsella

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