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Leinster v Ulster: Determined Conan ready to give all to Leinster's cause


Raring to go: Jack Conan is over his injury problems and is fighting fit. Photo:  Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Raring to go: Jack Conan is over his injury problems and is fighting fit. Photo: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Raring to go: Jack Conan is over his injury problems and is fighting fit. Photo: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

WE have always liked Jack Conan in Leinster. A kindred spirit of sorts. Tony Ward, for starters, is his mentor. That's enough right there to be getting along with. There's more though. Much more.

You could say there is something about the tale of an angry 12-year-old being forced to play in the oval ball Hades that is tight-head that, well, strikes a resounding resonance.

Or, much more accurately in our case, deafening dissonance.

Jack Conan, at least, has moved on. Quite a bit. He's played for Ireland in case you missed it.

We have always liked him for how he conducts himself, too. Unlike so many others, when a dictaphone is placed before him, he doesn't react as if he is being interrogated in Guantanamo Bay.

For him, it's like being down in the wonderful Platform Pizza in his home town of Bray just shooting the breeze. And he shoots first and asks us questions later.

"Am I not playing lads?" he asked us before Northampton; again, this week, as the Leinster heavy mob prepare to answer the IRFU's bugle, he must gently assail one particular dictaphone.

"I was going to ask you if I was going to play this week because I know you like to pick the team…"

This is how he rolls but the boy can walk as good as he can talk; one year after earning his first Leinster cap in 2014, he earned his first Ireland cap.

We remember that friendly against Scotland before the 2015 World Cup - "Jeez, I'm actually going to have to play here" - and then wondered if he could kick on.

Trouble is, the field of thoroughbreds in his current back-row posting are so vast that the contest resembles that claustrophobic scramble up the final furlong in Downpatrick.

At Leinster alone, the immoveable Heaslip towers above all challengers, from Conan to Murphy to Ruddock, to the Van der Fliers (Josh) and the flyers (Dan Leavy).

Oh, and some lad called Sean O'Brien.

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Which is probably why, just as we ask him this week whether he ever contemplates leaving Leinster to play more, a quick check of the records reveals we asked him the same thing this time 12 months ago.

And this time 24 months ago. We're nothing if not consistent. Or persistent.

If David Nucifora had his way - and most of the time he does - Conan might have been shifted north by now.

Then again, Conan's sparkling personality masks an inner resilience.

"I haven't spoken to anyone from anywhere else," he says, straight as a die. "I know for me, when I was growing up, I didn't want to be a professional player. I wanted to be a Leinster player.

"I'm very loyal to this club and they've stuck by me. At times, they've given me opportunities when they didn't need to. For the moment I'm here and giving it my all and then I'll see what happens."

With competition so intense, it hasn't helped his cause that a recurrence of different injuries have laid themselves like rumble strips upon his path.

"More than anything, it can be mentally tough to deal with at times," he reveals.

"My first season, I had a good year and played consistently throughout. I won a cap for Ireland, it wasn't my greatest performance but from that in itself I would have learned a lot.

"I was disappointed to get injuries but I feel even now that I'm better for it.

"I think I am mentally stronger and, physically, that bit more developed."

Since Conan's cap, it seems at times as if every other Irish player has been capped; not to mention the usual rash of South Africans and Kiwis.

Conan would not be human if irked when Ulster's Sean Reidy packed down on the seminal summer tour to South Africa.

"There are times, even over the November internationals, when you see lads getting caps," he muses. "Am I envious of them? Absolutely. That was me at one stage getting my first cap.

"Maybe if I was fit, things would have worked out differently and I would have played, but that is not something you can hold onto.

"I like to use that as fuel to the fire, something that pushes me on to be better. It drives my want to get back in the green jersey and my want to get back and play rugby and play for Leinster.

"Fair play to those lads, they deserve it, they've earned their chance. All I can do is worry about myself and worry about my day-to-day and getting better, taking my opportunities in here to progress on."

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