This time 12 months ago Jack Conan’s focus hardly strayed further than earning a second provincial cap.
At that point, 80 minutes against the Cardiff Blues was the sum of everything he had banked with the Leinster first team, and even the try he scored that day in late February in the 12-point win at the Arms Park wasn’t enough to merit a second appearance for him in blue before that summer.
Now here he is, a fully-fledged Ireland international and the first from St Gerard’s School in Bray, where he was mentored by the likes of Tony Ward and from where 20 of the pals who watched him play on Saturday also spent their teenage years.
If the last year has been a blur, then so too has this past week: from the first news of his selection last Thursday through to the traditional, but for Conan “surreal”, run-through in St Stephen’s Green in front of the passing public and to the game itself.
“I was delighted,” he said of the news that he was included. “I found out earlier in the week. It was the first moment of hearing my name called out and I was thinking, ’Jeez, I’m actually going to have to play here.’
“I was a bit nervous, but I was delighted. It was an absolutely massive opportunity for me and a huge honour. Not just for me, but for my family as well. I was happy enough with how I went. A few mistakes, but all in all, I can’t complain.” The step-up brought familiar realisations: the split second faster that you need to be, the heightened price you pay for even a momentary lapse and the relief at how the brain mercifully clears after the helter skelter of the opening jousts.
He certainly coped much better than had been the case back in late January, when his outing for the Wolfhounds against England Saxons left him — and the rest of the side who played that night — with much less of a case to make for Six Nations inclusion.
Whether or not this latest effort affords him a seat on the plane to England for the biggest show of all is another thing. Even with Tommy O’Donnell sidelined with injury, the scrap for places in the back row is as fierce as any breakdown battle.
Conan knows that. He knows he’s the baby of the group, the man with the least experience and therefore the most ground to make up, but this first chance has afforded him the belief that he is ready to survive at this level.
“I know that I was there for a reason,” he said. “I know that there’s so much talent — an embarrassment of riches — in the back row in this country, so to get selected there was a great honour.
“I realise that Joe hasn’t put me there for no reason so obviously I came here trying to get to the World Cup, but in saying that this is my first week playing international so I wasn’t looking past (Saturday) or this week in training.”
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