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'I've had a lot of ups and downs. The road to here hasn't always been easy'

Leinster and Ireland man Jack Conan starts for the Lions on Saturday.

Conan has been superb on this Lions tour.
Conan has been superb on this Lions tour.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THERE WILL BE a fair bit of celebrating in Bray this weekend.

Jack Conan, a native of the coastal town in County Wicklow will become a starting Test Lion on Saturday, only a couple of months after being a shock inclusion in Warren Gatland’s touring squad.

Even Conan himself was caught off guard by the announcement back in May. He counts himself lucky that he was sitting stationary in traffic as the squad was read out on the radio. The 28-year-old needed a few moments to gather himself.

Leinster number eight Conan only played his first Test match for Ireland in 18 months during this year’s Six Nations, so few people had him down as a Lion. But he hasn’t looked back since being called up and has now beaten off the competition of the experienced Taulupe Faletau and Exeter’s Sam Simmonds for the number eight shirt.

Back home in Bray, there is huge pride and the Lions match will be on in Conan’s own place too.

“I’m actually housing James Lowe and his missus for a few days in my house,” explains Conan from the Lions’ base close to Cape Town.

“I don’t know if he got kicked out of his house or he’s sold it and is waiting to move into his new one or something, but he’s staying in my house back in Carrickmines. So I think my missus is going to watch it with him and his girlfriend

“Then there’ll be a bit of a party, I would imagine, in Bray with my parents and the rest of the family. By the sounds of it, they have a few people coming over, with protocols and social distancing and all that. But, yeah there’ll be a bit of a party in Bray if anyone is looking to join!”

jack-conan Conan at Lions training near Cape Town. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Saturday isn’t a finishing point for Conan, who stresses that the hard work is very much ahead as he and the Lions look for a series win over the Springboks, but it is a reward for his patience and diligence.

He has often had moments of bad luck in his career, injury niggles or narrow selection calls now quite allowing him to fulfill his potential. Indeed, he has only started 13 Tests for Ireland and was struck down by a foot injury during the World Cup in 2019.

“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” says St Gerard’s School alumnus Conan. “The road to here hasn’t always been easy, but it has definitely been worth it.

“Obviously, I had a bad injury in 2019 at the World Cup and didn’t get to lay down the marker that I would have liked to in that campaign. Then I didn’t get a chance to play until late August 2020 because of the pandemic and everything else.

“So, it was a bit of a disrupted route back into the game, and even since then, I have had a few knocks and niggles and setbacks, but thankfully the last few months and hopefully the next few weeks will go all injury-free and it will help me play some good rugby.”

Conan used those frustrating injury spells to focus on a few of things that would make him a better player and he has been like a runaway train in terms of his form in 2021.

“I think my ability to just stay in the game and stay in the moment a bit more, to put myself forward to probably be… not wait for things to happen, but to go out there and assert myself a bit more,” says Conan of how he has improved.

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jack-conan-scores-a-try-despite-luke-cowan-dickie-and-tom-curry Conan was superb against England during the Six Nations. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I probably spent a lot of time overthinking and worrying about mistakes and if I made a mistake to go into myself whereas now you realise that if you make mistakes, it’s just part of the game. It happens, so just get on with it and don’t let it affect the next moment.

 “I’ve generally just tried to enjoy it a lot more, to appreciate where I am, to appreciate the life that I have and the job I get to do every day. It’s a dream come true and I’ve loved every moment of it, even the bad ones because it makes the good ones seem even better.

“I suppose I’ve probably become just a bit more appreciative of everything, after all the knocks and all the setbacks to then go on and kick on, and just enjoy it a bit more, and I think it’s helped massively.”

Asked who has helped him along this journey, Conan highlights his partner, Ali, among others.

“That’s a long old list! Firstly, probably my missus. To be fair to her, she probably had to put up with me through a lot of dark times and a lot of low moments. She’s always there with a positive attitude and a smiling face. She’s stood by me through a lot of tough times over the last three or four years.

“So between her and my family, my mates, the physios, and all the S&C staff at Leinster who’ve put so much time into me and have had to stay patient along with myself with all the setbacks. They’re the people that in my head I owe the most to.

“It means a lot to be here now and to look back and see all the hard work that they put in and how much they’ve helped me and how much I owe them.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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