Belfast Telegraph

I now have mental strength to get through bad times, says Hanrahan


New mindset: JJ Hanrahan has matured on and off the pitch
New mindset: JJ Hanrahan has matured on and off the pitch
David Kelly

By David Kelly

Two options were presented to JJ Hanrahan when Munster needed him most last month.

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The rest of Thomond Park and thousands of others on TV were transfixed by the spinning revolution of an oval ball. For them, it was win or bust.

Hanrahan couldn't get mired in such myopia; he views things differently now. The leather in his hands represented burden and opportunity. And he had to look both right in the eye.

There was a period in his life when those twin prospects would have swallowed him whole; but now he embraced them as time stood still and a shot at winning glory opened up before him.

Without his remarkable conversion just moments earlier, his side would not have been able to chase down the chance of a win against Edinburgh.

That he then missed the drop became the story; less obvious was the fact that he had managed to get in the position in the first place.

The prodigal son, who had to leave home to rediscover himself, has become pivotal to Munster's early-season battle to emerge from the most fraught Champions Cup pool of them all. At 27, he has no more time to waste.

"Experience," he smiled. "It helps an awful lot. If you look at it, I went through one year a complete wreck with injuries. I had three surgeries in one year.

"When you're away from home in Northampton you learn a bit about yourself. All through my career I had it plain sailing.You just develop a bit of mental strength and a bit of bottle when you are going through testing times.

"You have to keep rolling with the punches. And I've also had people who have helped me keep going."

Most of them have been on the mental side of his profession and it is for discretion that he preserves their anonymity.

But voices at Munster have been just as crucial; he has repaid the faith of coaches who may have seemed more invested in Joey Carbery after his signing last year, which is why Johann van Graan wasn't surprised at the player seizing the chance, or his response to not converting it.

"When Joey came last season, the most important thing for me was how the others reacted. JJ has embraced it all and he takes it on him to lead the team," said Van Graan.

"In world rugby, your No.10 needs to come through if you want to win big games. He's certainly embracing that responsibility.

"The great thing about that Racing 92 game is that he took it straight away. He knew that he missed the chance and he was very disappointed.

"But he's determined to do better when another kick comes his way, so I guess if he finds himself in a similar position this weekend he will want to take it on again.

"You want guys who want the ball. That's what the special players are about. In big moments they want to use the ball and the opportunities that brings."

Hanrahan was the last man standing in more ways than one against Racing and will be again when Saracens come to town on Saturday.

Tyler Bleyendaal's fresh neck injury is a concern.

"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't," confirmed the coach, who is more concerned about the fragile Kiwi's future well-being rather than his readiness to play.

With Carbery out until after Christmas, Ben Healy may get a bench berth but Rory Scannell is more likely to be the alternative out-half.

And so the man from Currow will assume the play-making duties; he wears the clothes more easily now.

Hanrahan used to be fazed by weeks like this but no longer; sitting cross-legged in languid ease and comforted by Stephen Larkham's guidance, he is benefiting from the first real kindred spirit in his professional career; the pair see the game with the same enchanted eyes.

"I don't have a diagram to describe this but your vision is always down the field so you're not spending as much time organising. Your job is to execute and pick the right options," he said.

He has got most of them right. And those he has not cannot linger in his mind lest it burn the memory when his resolve is next tested.

"You can't tiptoe around it," he conceded. "As a younger child growing up you always want those winning opportunities.

"But rugby is not about being perfect. I used to think it was.

"The thing about rugby and life in general is, if one opportunity is going to hamper you for the rest of your life, then you are going to fail pretty quickly.

"You have got to be able to get back on the horse. The next time an opportunity comes you don't shy away from it. You go for it again."

But would he have done anything different against Racing?

"Yeah," he drolled playfully. "Kick it over!"

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