‘Fellas are having a crack off each other in training’

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‘Fellas are having a crack off each other in training’

The Big Interview: JJ Hanrahan


JJ Hanrahan kicks a penalty against Ulster in December
JJ Hanrahan kicks a penalty against Ulster in December

When you are nominated for World Rugby Junior Player of the Year, before you make your senior and Champions Cup debut for your province, all in one year, the expectations hit the high notes, especially in Ireland.

JJ Hanrahan reached all of those milestones in 2012, and seven years down the road he will bank his 100th appearance for the province when he next takes to the field.

It promises to be a massive occasion for the Kerry native and his family, and at one stage it appeared as if he would never reach that proud total in a Munster shirt.

His career has taken him on the unconventional road, over to England and back again, but his stint at Northampton Saints gave him a taste of rugby in a different environment and the province is starting to see the benefits of that move in recent months.

And Munster are in a record 14th Champions Cup semi-final when they clash with Saracens on April 20. But the two-time European champions have experienced defeat at the semi-final stage six times in a row.

They lost out to Racing 92 last season, and were also defeated by Leinster in the PRO14 semi-final. Many of those losses have come by way of inches, and training on UL’s 4G pitch this season could the key to lifting the gloom.

“At the start there might have been a few hums and haws about what does 4G do for the joints etc. But we can see now that once the grounds hardens up a bit, and we have been training on solid ground all year, we have got some really, really high-speed running metres,” says Hanrahan.

“Training has been way sharper as opposed to trudging around in the mud, that helps. If you are training fast and the game goes slow, that is grand. But if you are training slow and the game all of a sudden, ramps up in pace you just can’t keep up with it and you won’t be able to keep up with it.

“To be able to train at that intensity is massive at this time of the year.”

Battle

With first-choice out-half Joey Carbery looking set to miss the showdown with the English Premiership giants, Hanrahan will do battle with another former World Rugby Junior Player of the Year nominee, Tyler Bleyendaal.

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“I am not really thinking about playing against Saracens. I am just focused on this week. You never really want to get in through injuries. I will just focus on Benetton and we will see what happens next week,” adds Hanrahan.

“I have been very impressed with Tyler. He is a quality player and he is doing all the right stuff at the right time, he is doing very well.

“It has been a good season so far for me too. I picked up a bit of knock over Christmas and had a couple of weeks off, it was a bit frustrating, but I’m getting back into the run of things now which is good.”

You could be forgiven for thinking Hanrahan has been around for ever, but he is still only 26 and arguably has his best rugby years ahead of him.

But it’s that time of the season when every rugby professional is desperate to be fit so they can represent their team at the business end.

“Everyone is aware of what stage of the season we are in. We just a put emphasis on that we are not leaving any stone unturned, to make sure that you are all over everything you can do in the game, be it your detail, recovery or nutrition,” says Hanrahan.

“Mentally, you need to be in the right place, just being all over everything. You are leaving no stone unturned and making sure you have no regrets.

“There are plenty of lads coming back. We have a massive squad. Training is always massively competitive in Munster. That is pretty much the same all year around.

“Fellas are having a crack off each other in training, all with a positive light. Players are trying to do their best for Munster. That all helps the performance at the weekend which is good.”

And before Munster can switch focus to what awaits in Coventry next week, PRO14 play-off-chasing Benetton Rugby will provide the perfect litmus test.

A veteran of 99 appearances for Munster, Hanrahan knows this could be the strongest Italian side he has faced.

“They are incredibly impressive, you could say the most improved but sometimes that can be looked on as a negative thing,” says Hanrahan.

“Every game I have played in Treviso has always been a really hard game. I have lost as many as I have won over there. It is going to be a massive challenge for us.

“They are going very, very well at home. This might be the first time they sell out the stadium. They are going to be really up for it. They are going to be coming with a big physical battle. They have got some quality outside backs as well.

“It is going to be a tough physical battle for us but one we are looking for to. If we can pitch up the way we need to, hopefully we can get the win.”

The Kerryman has gone on to make a success of his rugby career, but it could have been a GAA one instead.

Footsteps

He is a Currow native and might have followed in the footsteps of his clubmate, former All-Star and All-Ireland winner Seamus Scanlon.

“I was in Rockwell when the minors were going on. I chose to go another path, not to say I would have made it,” says Hanrahan. “If I was good enough I would have loved to give it a crack. But I chose a different path and I am happy enough with that too.

“As I got a bit older, rugby was number one; it was football and basketball early days. Then when I was about ten or 12 I realised I really liked rugby. I was playing rugby for a long time but I got serious from 12 to 14.

“I got picked up and went to Rockwell at 16 and it took off from there.”

And when Munster’s season hopefully ends in silverware, Hanrahan can enjoy his time off, before Kerry attempt to end their five-year wait for the Sam Maguire Cup.

“If they get to Croke Park it would be unbelievable to get up there,” adds Hanrahan. “There is a lot of younger lads coming through in Kerry and it is very impressive to watch them.

“The coach is putting a lot of faith in them, having had them all the way up through minor. So it’s good to see them going well.”

Irish Independent


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