By John Fallon
Munster coach Johann van Graan said that Neil Cronin journey from being a schoolteacher to a professional rugby player proves that a person should never give up on their dreams.
This time last year the 25-year-old Limerick native was knuckling down to the first week of term at St Munchin’s College and now, after another great season captaining Garryowen, he is front-lining for the province.
Cronin, younger brother of Irish hooker Sean, had made four appearances off the bench — totalling 15 minutes of action — in a previous spell with Munster in the 2014-15 season. But he never gave up on the ambition of professional rugby and his perseverance has been rewarded with a one-year professional contract and he impressed in his first start in the 38-0 win over the Cheetahs on Saturday.
“Now it is pretty difficult to leave him out of the team. He has done really well. He will be the first to say that the tempo was pretty high and like I said it is the next step for him. He has come in with a very open mind and a very positive attitude.
“It is his second chance and I thought he took it over the weekend, but this is only week one. There is such a long way to go. Sometimes, in life, we so often look at the negatives, but I think it is a feel-good story, it is a great story for an individual. This is nice story of a guy who just kept going.
“Rugby is obviously in his family and he used his coaching to better his rugby ability, came in with an open mind, worked hard and I am just so glad for him.”
Meanwhile, former All Black Alby Mathewson, has linked up with his new teammates. However he will not feature when they travel to Glasgow later this week.
The 32-year old, capped five times by New Zealand, is waiting on a work permit but with Cronin crowning his first start with a solid display against the Cheetahs on Saturday, and James Hart, Duncan Williams and Jack Stafford all available, coach Johann van Graan has plenty of cover.
Van Graan again stated yesterday that he was unable to comment on Murray’s injury. Murray, out of contract at the end of the World Cup in Japan next year, is believed to be suffering from a neck or shoulder injury which has prompted Munster to bring in the experienced Mathewson on a four-month deal. Munster yesterday issued a squad update which listed eight players unavailable, with the injuries they are troubled included for all of them bar Murray. Mathewson, who won two of his five caps against Munster in 2008 and against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in 2010, joins after making 19 appearances for Toulon last season but has been out of contract since the end of the Top 14 campaign.
“He left Toulon a few weeks ago and returned to Perth,” said van Graan. “I’m treating him as an injured player that is returning.
“He’s in very good physical condition. One of the reasons we got him is he is a true professional, looks after the body very well across his whole career.