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Sunday 19 January 2020

Broken dream left in Japan

Conan opens up about his World Cup heartbreak

Jack Conan suffered a break in his foot 48 hours before he was due to start his first game at the World Cup against Japan. Photo: Sportsfile
Jack Conan suffered a break in his foot 48 hours before he was due to start his first game at the World Cup against Japan. Photo: Sportsfile

Time can be a precious gift when you need it; a tortuous instrument when you don't want to have to deal with it.

Jack Conan has had enough of it to be able to take a somewhat philosophical view on the dramatic end to his World Cup.

"I had been kind of struggling for a while with a pain in my foot, being booted-up at one point," he said, attending the Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Cup draw.

It was a summer of 'will I, won't I' for the Leinster No 8, losing time in his contest to challenge the supremacy of CJ Stander.

"Luckily, it healed up in time for me to put in good 80-minute shifts against Wales in those back-to-back internationals before the World Cup," he said.

Stronger

"It was consistently getting better, feeling better, stronger and I was gaining in confidence playing and training on softer pitches here."

In the end, it wasn't the much-publicised heat and humidity that crumbled Conan. It was the move to less-kind underfoot conditions where his body broke down.

"When we got over to Japan, it was way hotter, the pitches were harder," he shared.

"The Thursday after the Scotland game, I was due to play against Japan, my first start in the World Cup. I was hugely pumped up for it.

"During a session, I put my foot down and did enough damage to the point where I couldn't continue.

"In that moment, I thought, 'if I iced it up and do everything I can over the next 48 hours, I can still play against Japan.'"

It wasn't long before he was informed of how impossible that would be.

"A few hours later, I went to get a scan in some remote Japanese hospital," he said.

"That is when I found out the bone in my foot had completely broken all the way through. There was no hope for me to play on.

"It was a pretty devastating moment to realise the World Cup was gone, before I had even started after playing only 60 minutes against Scotland."

How did you react? Did you feel like punching a wall?

"No, I'm not an angry soul."

Did you burst with emotion?

"When I got the news and I was speaking to Ciarán (Cosgrave), the (team) doctor, he was like, 'look, unfortunately, you won't be able to play any more part in the World Cup.'

"It was surreal. I wasn't overly sad. It didn't faze me. It just wasn't real to me. You could call it denial.

"I went outside and I texted my girlfriend Ali. I had to ring her back home because she was supposed to come over with her Dad the week of the Samoa game for 10 days.

"I had to tell her I was coming home. That is when it hit me," Conan admitted.

"I got really emotional. I couldn't hold it back. I was in floods of tears outside the hospital, choking up.

Emotional

"That was the only time I got really emotional about it. It hit me all at once.

"I had my tears and then I was able to treat it for what it was - a bad break."

The mask had to be put on as Conan returned to the fold of his other family.

"I went back to the hotel and told all the lads and Joe (Schmidt) announced it in front of the media which was tough to hear.

"This is the night before the Japan game and you don't want to distract anyone.

"You don't want the lads to be worried about you, because they had such a big game to play the next day.

"I said my goodbyes to everyone, appreciated what they had to say, and took a step backwards, so as not to get in the way of anyone.

"What was supposed to be a massive personal day turned into me being nothing more than a spectator at the Japan game and catching a flight home the next day.

"It was a whirlwind three days from being selected to start against Japan to being at home on Sunday, sitting there having lunch with Ali.

"I felt terrible because I felt I could have added something and I was frustrated that I couldn't do that."

There is what happened and there is what he has done about it.

The rehabilitation of Conan's foot is ongoing just as Caelan Doris and Max Deegan have made Ireland's 'stocktake' squad.

"The competition is absolutely crazy at Leinster," said Conan.

"When you are watching them do so well, you are envious. You want that to be you, out there playing with the lads, adding to the environment."

That will come - in time.

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