Sean Cronin doesn’t feel he was scapegoated for Ireland’s poor Six Nations display in Italy last month.
And the Leinster hooker has been told that he remains firmly in the mix for a World Cup slot as long as he continues to perform with Leinster.
If Ireland’s collective showing in the recent championship was disappointing then the story of Cronin’s elevation to the starting XV for Rome and his subsequent demotion from the enlarged squad for the following two rounds was up there with the most traumatic of the individual tales.
His start against the Azzurri was just his tenth in 68 caps for his country, and his first in the rarified atmosphere of a Six Nations game, and yet he paid a fearful price for his long awaited opportunity thanks to a malfunctioning lineout.
Replaced by Niall Scannell seven minutes after the break, Ireland’s lineout continued to stutter and yet Cronin’s name was conspicuous by its absence when the brains trust revealed its squad for the remaining pair of games against France and Wales.
“I was disappointed, obviously, but no, not scapegoated,” he said of that plummet in fortunes. “You’ve just gotta deal with it. Even when I was dropped the year before last, I just looked at it as a chance to get back here.
“I hadn’t played much rugby. I was coming back from a couple of injuries, so I looked at it as a chance to get more rugby under my belt and, the way I look at it now, it’s grand. Whatever happened, that happened.
“But I have the opportunity to play in some of the biggest club rugby games in the season coming up and if I’m there worrying about what happened there in February, that’s not going to be good for anyone.
“It’s not going to be good for me or my teammates. So it’s fully behind me. Like I said, there’s not that many other clubs playing in semi-finals this weekend.”
Cronin has won more silverware than most with club and country but is no stranger to adversity. There was a time when he was a bench option for Leinster too and he chose to stay then and fight for his place rather than give oxygen to approaches from abroad.
It wasn’t easy. He admits that he hasn’t been singing and dancing his way around the Leinster campus in the wake of the Six Nations but there were no excuses offered or accepted as he spoke about it to the media for the first time.
Lord knows, he could have easily grasped a few.
Most obvious was the fact that he was throwing to the inexperienced pair of Quinn Roux and Ultan Dillane in Rome and not Devin Toner, with whom he has played since Irish Schools level, or James Ryan, another provincial colleague with club and country this past two terms.
There’s no future in that line of thinking though. Cronin hasn’t had the opportunity to sit down yet with Joe Schmidt, but he has had enough contact on the phone to know that there is still the chance of a plane ticket to Japan being printed with his name on it.
“I will probably touch base with him before the season is over, just to get a rundown on just how it ended and stuff like that. I talked to him. I am still firmly in the mix as long as I perform. That’s all I can do and that is fair enough I suppose.”
It’s hard to see how he could be left behind given his contributions down the years for Ireland and for Leinster. His form with the latter has been superb this season having scored scored 12 tries in 16 appearances, half of them coming in seven European games.
Whatever about his Ireland career, the day has long since passed when Cronin has had to prove himself to the blue hordes. That decision to spurn offers from the likes of Glasgow Warriors in years past has paid off in spades as he faces up to Toulouse this weekend.
“It is an incredible environment here, top coaches, top players. Look who you are playing with! Again, I backed myself and I had that belief that if I kept plugging away and kept playing well and got chances here and there I would eventually maybe force my way in.
“Like I said, I backed myself and I wanted to stay here. I enjoy it here. I have family here now obviously as well. No I didn’t [think of leaving], I liked it here too much and I backed myself. That’s all you can do and it is a pretty good environment to be part of.”