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Dublin: 15 °C Saturday 8 August, 2020

Only way for Toner to get over RWC omission is to 'play the house down'

Leo Cullen feels Devin Toner’s pain. But there’s not much time to lick the wounds.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

YOU DON’T REMEMBER the call carrying good news, only the bad ones stick.

Devin Toner has, and will, be asked to put the disappointment of missing out on Ireland’s 31-man World Cup squad firmly behind him in the coming weeks. His province need him, and his country might even come calling back too if injury takes a lock.

His provincial head coach is speaking from experience when he advises Toner on how to move through the disappointment.

“Just park it and focus. Get back playing. Blow it away in his next game,” says Leo Cullen.

“Play the house down. If something happens something happens. I think he’s better just focusing on the performance piece. Everyone will have their own process of going about the training weeks, but just has to make sure he gets everything right.”

Cullen speaks with a vivid memory of his own World Cup disappointments, missing out on the touring party for 2003 and 2007. He mentions getting the nod for 2011, but only in passing.

Rejection leaves a deeper imprint.

“I know what that is like because I had it myself. The phone call. 2003, I remember like it was yesterday.

“I wasn’t expecting that phone call. I was full sure I was going to the World Cup and I was as upset as I’ve ever been. Couldn’t understand it for the life of me. You get angry and you go through all that grieving process.

At some point you have to get to the acceptance phase and move on. At some point it is going to stunt you. It is going to stunt you if you can’t get over that grieving cycle. It’s easier said than done. People deal with grief in many different ways…

“In 2007 I had the same exact disappointment. But I was expecting the call, even though I got it incredibly late.

“It came nearly at the eleventh hour, that window I remember vividly as well because I was supposed to call around to friends and it was ‘I’m waiting for this call.’

“I was more pragmatic: ‘I’m here ready when you need me’. So that was the view I had then. I couldn’t deal with it in 2003. The shock… I ended up getting injured after that and had shoulder surgery during the World Cup. Who knows, maybe I would have gone to the World Cup and got injured during the first training session or match.”

sean-obrien-donncha-ocallaghan-and-leo-cullen Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The road not taken, not offered. Trying to figure out where such paths might have led is futile.

Walking around with any resentment is usually counter-productive too. Connacht head coach Andy Friend has spoken about an anger being carried by Kieran Marmion after his omission, and the Australian reflected that his scrum-half may hold it with him for a long time to come.

Even anger can be a healthy emotion, if channeled effectively.

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“When you deal with some sort of adversity,” adds Cullen, “I think you need to channel it in a positive way.

“There’s guys that are picked ahead of you – that’s always the great complication in being in provincial derby games. Just because there is a pecking order in the national team, once you step on  the grass and you  are playing a provincial game the match up doesn’t matter. They just want to go out and win the day. Win the day and they think they have a chance of winning the next selection.”

While he has 14 players away with Ireland, Cullen has more than Toner in this scenario of course. Having toured Australia and waited his turn in the out-half pecking order, Ross Byrne lost out to Jack Carty and the recovering Joey Carbery as back-up 10 options.

Dave Kearney was another man in among the Ireland training group who missed out on the trip to Japan.

“They’ve been great,” Cullen says of the trio. “you work so hard over such a long period of time, you get dropped off. They’ve all had a bit of time. Ross and Dave both played against Northampton and it is good to get back into our system for the two of them. Dev… he has trained this week so he is good to go. 

“He is good in terms of how he deals with disappointment. For all three of them, they just need to get into playing now. We’ve got competitive games coming up and they just need to be ready for the call if it comes.

“How do they do that? They need to focus on performing well for the team and getting back up to speed in the systems. ”

“(Having Toner) was a surprise, for sure. It’s a great reflection in terms of the depth that is there across the board in Irish rugby and all of the provinces. As tough a call as I’m sure that was for Dev to take. The influence he has had and the amount of games he has played in, for him to miss out was definitely a shock. 

“We managed him when he came back in first as he was carrying a niggle, but now he’s good to go. He trained last week and we’ve been happy with him. He just needs to train well.

“Dev has committed fully to training now that he’s back and now we’re looking forward to seeing him play. What he’ll offer to us at this stage of the season, we weren’t budgeting to have him back with us but we’re looking forward to seeing him play now.”

Back on the horse then, though as Cullen quips, it’s a mighty big horse.

Former Ireland performance analyst and current coaching wizard of OZ Eoin Toolan joins Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey to predict Ireland’s World Cup, break down every pool, and call the overall winners.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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