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'That's the part of rugby that people don't see' - Cronin fit again with Munster

The Highfield RFC man struggled with injury last season but is relishing being back in the red jersey.

AS HE CONTINUED the recuperation of his form and fitness earlier this season, Munster loosehead prop James Cronin got the chance to tog out for his club side, Highfield RFC in the AIL in October.

Cronin notched a hat-trick against Naas on what was his first appearance for the club in eight years, helping them towards one of the seven wins this season that have them atop the Division 1B table.

james-cronin Cronin makes a carry for Munster against Saracens last weekend. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

While Cronin’s biggest ambitions revolve around the red jersey of Munster, and the green of Ireland, he delighted in getting back to his roots and playing alongside his brother, Miah.

“That was a nice bonus,” said Cronin this week as he prepared to face Saracens tomorrow with his province. “I just wanted more game time because I was out for so long and Johann [van Graan] was good enough to let me play. It was a bit of craic.

“I was lining out with my brother and a lot of mates. That’s grassroots, where it began. If I’m not playing on a Saturday and there’s AIL on, I’ll go and watch that because it still means a lot to me and the club means a lot to me, so I’ll go out and support that when I can.”

The support is certainly reciprocated, with all in Highfield taking pride in Cronin’s achievements and pleasure in his return to the pitch with Munster this season after a torrid time with injuries in the latter part of 2018/19.

Cronin was sidelined from November onwards, having had a “clean-up job” on a long-standing knee injury and then been struck by repeated and deeply frustrating issues with his hamstring as he unsuccessfully chased a return to full fitness before the end of the campaign.

Now, Cronin himself has been catapulted back into the limelight with Munster after injuries to Dave Kilcoyne and Jeremy Loughman returned him to the starting loosehead spot against Saracens in the Champions Cup last weekend on the back of good form so far this season.

Having been through the mill with injury, Cronin is appreciating his opportunities more than ever.

“There’s a bit of perspective in that I had a shocking year last year with injury and just when you pull the jersey on, you are that little more appreciative that you are playing for your home province and you’re playing in front of your friends and family, and all those things mean a lot to you.

james-cronin-scores-his-sides-first-try Cronin scores a try against the Ospreys in the Pro14. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“It’s just about really enjoying each game now. Even the more unglamorous fixtures, there’s a bit more oomph to them. I’m really enjoying my rugby at the moment.”

The tough times last season were testing for Cronin, who did plenty of work with Munster’s sports psychologist, Pieter Kruger, to deal with the frustration.

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“He’s from South Africa so he comes over and we have one-on-one slots with him when he’s over,” explains Cronin.

“They’re really beneficial, you’re nearly venting in there with him for an hour, all your frustration, so that’s really positive.

“It was a really tough time because you’re training on your own, you’re not really with the squad. As good as the lads were going and you’re really hoping that they go and win the Champions Cup, but you’re feeling a little bit that you couldn’t play the semi-final and thinking, ‘maybe I could have made a difference.’

“You kinda feel isolated a small bit. I suppose that’s the part of rugby that people don’t see, that when you’re not in the squad or can’t be picked, they’re nearly the harder moments than actually going out there and performing at the weekend. So it’s good to be on the other side of it again.”

Cronin would love to add to the three Ireland caps he won under Joe Schmidt, the most recent one of them against France in the 2016 Six Nations, but he is naturally focused on establishing himself with Munster rather than projecting ahead.

The Cork man is 29 now, no longer one of the younger players in the Munster squad, and feels the heat from those aspiring to make their own mark.

james-cronin Cronin is enjoying his rugby more than ever. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Even in pre-season, the lads coming through are really good athletes and you’d nearly question yourself, going, ‘Jesus, these fellas might pass me out’, but nah, I was well able to keep up with them and I was happy enough,” says Cronin with a smile.

“It’s good that these young lads push you. When I was young, I would have really pushed the older props ahead of me whereas now I’m getting over that hill!

“Jeremy Loughman, Liam O’Connor, and Josh Wycherley – they’re all good athletes. I remember we were doing 150m runs and I was sticking with them, so I knew I wasn’t in a bad place.

“They’re all good players and it’s a really good place for Munster to be in at the minute, that we’ve got two or three players per position. It’s a great place for the squad to be.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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