Better late than never for Conway

Andrew Conway stands nonchalantly with hands in pockets talking about the need to stay level-headed.

Conor Murray and Rory Best congratulate try scorer Andrew Conway.

The curiosity is that his words spill out on an evening that should have happened long before now but one which many felt had passed him by.

Jacob Stockdale adds to the barely contained giddiness as he walks past in the mixed zone and pinches a team-mate who, like him, had just bagged a try against a Tier One nation just a handful of caps into his Test career.

Now 26, Conway could be forgiven for wondering if all this was real.

“I have watched enough (big international games) over the years with friends and teammates playing and you are thinking you are good enough to be involved in them. But I hadn’t the consistency of performance in my game,” he explained after Ireland’s 38-3 thrashing of the Springboks.

“I have probably added a few layers to my game which are important at international level. You can’t just be a one-trick pony. It was a big occasion, a tough build-up. Your head goes in all sorts of different directions. Are you able for this level? All these sorts of things. But once you are out on the pitch it is what you do three or four days a week to prepare of it.”

A Junior and Senior Leinster Schools Cup winner with Blackrock, Conway was considered a particularly bright star in a universe awash with them, but his career stalled at Leinster with his best form in blue banked in the half-season after his switch to Munster had already been rubberstamped.

He is four seasons down south now and, though the journey there has been testing too, he finally found a path to a consistency of form and one that eventually engineered a way back into the mind of Joe Schmidt who had coached him before at Leinster.

Conway spoke on Saturday, as he had before, of a change of mindset. A more holistic approach to his career that went beyond merely training hard and hitting the gym at the appointed time. He broke down his game. Picked the brains of coaches near and far.

Extra passing sessions, high-ball work with Felix Jones and defensive reps with Jacques Nienaber. All added to the pot.

He’s not the finished article yet, but Conway is a far more rounded player than the pacey back three blitzer who broke onto the scene.

“I can’t compare myself to other people, which is one of the things that I did in the past, where I am looking at Earlsy or looking at Zeebs and thinking I need to be as good a ball player as Zeebs or I need to be as good at stepping as Earlsy.

Like so many Irish players, he has fit seamlessly into Schmidt’s set-up. It’s one that demands an infinite attention to detail and yet the rigid framework the head coach puts in place is one that presents his players with a sense of freedom and personal responsibility.

That’s a neat trick. A triumph of coaching and man management.

Still, Conway could be forgiven for rueing the years lost to him. For looking at the likes of Zebo, Jordi Murphy, Rhys Ruddock, Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson who played alongside him with the Ireland U20s back in 2010 and 2011 and think about all those caps he lost out on.

“I do sometimes and then the other times I’m like: part of my journey is that I wasn’t involved in that way. That’s okay as well. It doesn’t have to be the normal route of being a schools star and getting capped when you’re 19 and having a great career for 10 or 15 years like some.

“It makes me appreciate being here more, definitely. But I haven’t gotten past the (notions) of ‘I wish I had changed this when I was younger’. I was like what I was like and now I am like what I am like. Hopefully I have a few years left in me.”

On this form, definitely.


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