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# Fear of God
Paul O'Connell getting better as the years go on, he scares me -- Sean Cronin
The hooker says there has been extra bite between packs this week as players try to match the captain’s standards.

SEAN CRONIN IS doing his best to stay on message, but Paul O’Connell will stir emotion in any Irish man.

The Limerick lock will win his 100th cap for Ireland when he leads his country out in the Millennium Stadium this Saturday. And although Cronin attempts to pay his respects to Dan Tuohy, Mike McCarthy and Iain Henderson, there’s just no way they can bump O’Connell out and make him wait past 14.30 for his century.

“If he is selected,” Cronin says would a poorly concealed laugh, “it will be an absolutely huge achievement.

“I’m sure he will be in the squad. It is a phenomenal achievement for a player… I hope he gets picked.”

The questions forced Cronin to walk a tightrope. Fall foul of Schmidt’s ‘nobody owns the jersey’ mantra or plead ignorance the impact his fellow Limerick man has on the team. Fortunately, the squad in Carton House are of a sunny disposition these days.

“I think he’s getting even better as the years go on. He’s the type of player, whenever Paul is playing, he makes you play better. That’s the enthusiasm, the physicality and the passion he brings. He instills it in the players around him. I couldn’t really say more about him. It’s great to play under him.

“He sets the standard and you’ve got to get up there with him. He’ll demand it off you in one way or another. It’s great to play with someone like that because it raises your standard as well.”

And if someone should fall short of that standard?

“You’re either trying to keep the head down and hope he doesn’t notice or just get on with things.

“It’s the same with Joe, it’s about not getting it wrong, getting your detail right. It’s the summation of the 23 lads together that gets the team over the line.”

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Asked if he had ever been moved to tears by one of O’Connell’s pre-match speeches, Cronin’s dry wit again comes to the fore as he paints a not-entirely-wanted picture of life in the Ireland changing room:

“I’ve nipped to the toilet a couple of times to dry the eyes. He scares me more than makes me cry, to be honest with you.’

“You see the level he gets to and say “I need to get there too”. If 15 or 23 lads get to his level, we are hard to beat… it is the culmination of the 23 lads together that gets the team over the line.”

Getting over the line is the team goal, getting over the sideline is Cronin’s personal challenge. Despite some superb form for Leinster across the winter, Rory Best continues to dominate the number 2 jersey and Cronin has been left to make the most of a diminishing number of minutes as the Championship wears on.

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Sean Cronin James Crombie / INPHO Sean Cronin interviewed by Sinead Kissane and Marie Crowe in a separate interview in Maynooth yesterday. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

With 53 minutes to his name across three games, there’s an extra chunk of intent and not a trace of a smile when he talks about “an good bit of bite in training between opposing packs” this week.

Even so, he’s prepared again to sit tight, pay attention and carry out his role to the letter. And if the chance should open up to go beyond that, he’ll be well positioned.

It is hugely different [ as a replacement]. A big thing for me would be keeping an eye on what plays we’ve used or line-out we’ve used already because we’re probably not going to go through them again. Seeing what they’re doing in attack, so that you can come in and fit in as well as possible in terms of ‘D’.

“A big thing of Joe’s is to come in and see how you fit in first and then see what impact you can bring to the game.”

At provincial level, replacements can at least look forward to having a little more freedom of expression when they enter the fray against tiring defences. In the Test arena, however…

“Maybe not so much so in international level, because it’s a step up in terms of playing in the provinces. There’s less room. It does tend to open up a small bit, but it’s more a mentality of coming and fitting in first, bringing stability to the game in defence and attack and focusing on what you have to do to get the team over the line.”

That’s what O’Connell would do. So that’s what the men following him out on Saturday must do.

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