MUNSTER loosehead prop James Cronin will be hoping that 2020 will be his year.
The first half of 2019 was one he would rather forget as a knee injury and trying to return too quickly from that injury saw him spend most of the second half of last season in the treatment room for repeating hamstring problems.
It showed the determination of the man to try to keep getting back but the Ballincollig man has learned as he has got a year older and wiser that patience is a key virtue for any professional player.
“I had a knee issue and I’ve had it for maybe years, so I got a clean-up job done there and I kept tweaking my hamstring on the way back, so I was a bit overloaded.
“It was no fault of anyone. The goal was to get back for the quarter-final last year, and then it was the semi-final and I suppose we weren’t collectively giving it time to heal, we were chasing it at every opportunity.
“And it’s just when the body’s telling you it’s no, it’s no, and there’s no way of getting back from that and it was a really tough time because you’re training on your own, you’re not really with the squad.
“And as good as the lads were going, and you’re really hoping that they go and win the Champions Cup, but you’re feeling a little bit that you couldn’t play the semi-final and maybe I could have made a difference.
“You know, you kinda feel isolated a small bit and yeah, it was a really tough time.
“I suppose that’s the part of rugby that people don’t see, that when you’re not in the squad or can’t be picked, they’re nearly the harder moments than actually going out there and performing at the weekend.
“So it’s good to be on the other side of it again,” says Cronin.
Having eventually made it back to training in time for the start of pre-season he looked around and saw young players like Jeremy Loughman, Liam O’Connor and Josh Wycherley eyeing his spot on the team and was determined to set down a marker.
His run of games in the PRO14 and Heineken Champions Cup games has saw him return to his best form including his bonus point try against Ospreys in Europe and he will be hoping he can keep that going in the new year.
His injury has certainly given him perspective and he is determined to enjoy the ride this time after getting over the frustration of so many injuries one after the other.
“There’s a bit of perspective in that I had a shocking year last year with injury and just when you pull the jersey on, you are that little more appreciative that you are playing for your home province and you’re playing in front of your friends and family, and all those things mean a lot to you.
“So yeah it’s just really enjoying each game now. Even the more unglamorous fixtures now, there’s a bit more oomph to them. I’m really enjoying my rugby at the moment.”
He will see plenty of action again over the early weeks of the new year as the Ireland players depart for national camp and the Ballincollig man is determined to make the most of his time in the jersey.
Cronin knows that he can go back to all the lads he played with in Highfield if he needs a sounding board but he found Munster sports psychologist Pieter Kruger a great help when he was frustrated by his injury or trying to come back.
“We have a sports psychologist here, Pieter Kruger, he’s from South Africa so he comes over and we have one-on-one slots with him when he’s over.
“So they’re really beneficial, you’re nearly venting in there with him for an hour, your frustration, so that’s really positive.
“Yeah it’s good. You can come in and bounce things off him, he’s not here all the time, he comes in and comes out and that’s nearly a good thing because he can see the difference in the mood in the camp, like, from last week to this week.
“He’ll be able to pick up what’s the vibe in the camp and if there’s any difference.
“It’s good for us that he may be able to tip Johann off if we’re not on point or he could go, ‘Jesus, they’re really on point this week’, so it’s positive,” says the 29-year-old.
Cronin would also like to see 2020 as the year he gets back into the Irish squad. If he can continue to play the way he has done in the run-up to Christmas then that could be a realistic short term goal rather than a long time one.
He says that for the early part of the new year he will not be thinking too hard about his Ireland place but instead concentrating on cementing his place in the Munster front row.
“Everyone would love to be picked for the national side and I’m not going to say I wouldn’t, but I’m just focusing on my rugby at Munster at the moment, we’ve got really good looseheads and really good competition here.
“You can’t be looking too far ahead, you have to nail the first part down first and then maybe look down the road further ahead."