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Neil Cronin determined to seize second chance at Munster


Poster boy: Neil Cronin has been flourishing in the AIL
Poster boy: Neil Cronin has been flourishing in the AIL

By Cian Tracey

At 25 and working as a full-time teacher, it's fair to assume that Neil Cronin thought his dream of playing professional rugby had been and gone.

In the 2014-15 season, Cronin got a brief taste of what it would have been like when he regularly trained with Munster and ended up making four appearances for his home province.

However, the Limerick native never quite managed to take that next step and secure a permanent contract, so he returned to the All-Ireland League (AIL) with Garryowen and refocused his attention on his teaching studies.

Three years on, Cronin has fought his way back into the Munster reckoning, and has deservedly earned himself a one-year deal ahead of next season.

This is a story not only of redemption, but one that again highlights the value of the club game in Ireland.

So often the AIL is forgotten about in terms of the role it plays in the bigger picture of Irish Rugby, and Cronin is the latest example that proves there is still room for a late bloomer.

At the end of the season, the much-maligned British and Irish Cup will be disbanded, and while the competition has had its merits, this is a perfect opportunity for the IRFU to focus even more of their attention on the AIL.

Week-in, week-out, we are seeing the importance of Academy players, or in Cronin's case guys looking for a second chance, lining out for their clubs.

Joey Carbery still speaks highly of how quickly his development was accelerated by playing for Clontarf, and considering that he went from lining out on a Saturday afternoon with 'Tarf to pulling the strings for Ireland in their historic first win over the All Blacks within six months, that path didn't work out too badly for him at all.

Cronin has been a model of consistency for Garryowen over the last few seasons, and he has never let his head drop after being overlooked by Munster.

A goal-kicking scrum-half, the former Castletroy College student has long been one of the AIL's standout performers and was rewarded for that form back in February when he captained the Ireland club side.

Growing up, rugby always dominated the agenda at home and watching the strides that his older brother Sean made with Leinster and Ireland was a constant source of inspiration.

He is currently working as a woodwork and technology teacher in St Munchin's College, where he also works as backs coach with the Junior Cup team, who last month were crowned the Munster champions for the first time in 20 years.

The easy option might have been to stay in a job that he has worked equally hard to get and make headway in, but he is still young enough to make a name for himself in Munster.

Cronin has spent enough time in the set-up down through the years to know what it takes to succeed at the highest level.

He has been handed an all too rare second chance in the professional game - largely as a result of his outstanding performances for Garryowen.

Yet it represents another reminder of why it is important not to lose track of the value of taking the road less travelled via the AIL.

Belfast Telegraph


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