It was in late December 2016 when the news broke that JJ Hanrahan was returning to his native Munster after two years of plying his trade in Northampton.
“I’m delighted to be back in Munster and back in Ireland, It was a really easy decision overall”.
He describes his second coming to Thomond Park as “incredible, surreal in a way” – he scored a brace of tries that day with his mother and girlfriend watching on from the stand.
A moment that the two key women in Hanrahan’s life won’t forget for a long time and thanks to his work with Sports Psychologists or mental skills coaches, as he prefers to call them, he too enjoyed the day more than he once would.
“I think it’s the most important thing in rugby right now. The thing about rugby is the peaks and troughs are so great it’s about trying to find a middle ground, if you play a good game you are not as good as they say you are and if you play a bad game you are not as bad as they say you are either. I know Johnny Sexton said it a few times, ‘If you play a bad game you’re never too far from a good one, it’s only a couple of per cent,’ I thought that was a great one”.
That reappearance was the culmination of a long term plan which he hoped would see him return to his home province at some stage in the future.
“I think I had a long term plan all along (to return) that I didn’t really disclose to a lot of people as I wasn’t too sure It was going to come through.”
Since returning, a shoulder injury has severely restricted his involvement, the persistence of which “is kind of frustrating” he admits.
“I came back with a shoulder injury and was out for five and a half months with that – this is my fifth week available to play,” he adds.
The competition that currently exists at the province poses another challenge but one he knew was awaiting him, “Oh definitely I was wise to it. I know what Keats could do anyway, I was behind him for long enough, all be it he had a dip a couple of seasons ago but talent just doesn’t go away overnight, he’s a great player. Tyler is a very intelligent guy who can manage the game really well, I knew them boys had been playing really well”.
It’s Important he says to “fit in with the group and what the group needs” rather than coming in “saying I’m the number one or anything like that”, the opportunities will come eventually.
“One thing I know you need in a group is a lot of players in a lot of positions. All I can do is do my job when I’m asked and hopefully that’s more than often,” he laughs.
While the needs of the Munster unit must be met, he is honest as to his preferred position having been utilised at 10 and 12 in the past, “I’ve said it before, I want to play 10. I think it’s where I see the most growth in my game. I’m not the biggest guy physically so if you go to the top level the guys have 10kg on you. You still have to tackle them at 10 but it’s more of an attritional game at 12”.
The man who will ultimately decide whether or not to grant that wish is incoming Director of Rugby, Johann Van Graan, someone who Hanrahan believes to be, “quite a peoples person”.
“I think he’s quite a religious man as well. I think one of his quotes, not to misquote him, is about creating the best person he can rather than just the best rugby. That nice to hear, it’s refreshing and I definitely relate to coaches like that.”
With the news that his Munster team mate, Simon Zebo is to depart to the continent at the end of the season, the Currow man admits the “world class” winger “will be sorely missed within the club” but says, “I wouldn’t be someone who would begrudge a guy making a decision that they wanted and felt it was right for them. Who am I to say it’s not right for them. It was right for me at the time and Simon believes its right for him so 100 per cent you back him. As a friend and a team mate you only ever want the best for them”.
I’m sure Hanrahan saw a question regarding his national team coming long before it did, but his response is one of a man who is intent on living in the moment.
“If you ask any player he’ll have the same aspiration, it’s all about the top but for me my focus is on Munster, getting in here, to try and train and play as well as I can and keep the body fit and healthy, it’s about walking before I can run – you can get caught looking too far ahead. If we go back to the Cardiff game, everything was about the moment that day, enjoy this, enjoy this, enjoy this. That’s when I play my best rugby.”
I sense it’s not a rehearsed answer but one from a man who is thankful to have been afforded the chance to wear the red of Munster once more. Perhaps living in the moment is a mantra we would all be best served following.