Leinster lock Leo Cullen is itching to make his mark on this year’s Six Nations, a tournament he has not graced since he played against Wales in March 2003.
Cullen missed out on selection for next Saturday’s opener against Italy (Croke Park, kick-off 2pm), with his provincial colleague Malcolm O’Kelly and Munster duo Donncha O’Callaghan and Mick O’Driscoll chosen for the second row slots.
After two successful years at Leicester Tigers, the Newtownmountkennedy man is back home and been to the forefront of a revival in the Leinster pack’s fortunes.
Despite his consistent form, Cullen has missed on making the cut for the Italian game but has not given up hope in featuring in green over the coming weeks.
“I’d love to be involved. I wasn’t involved in the World Cup at all. Obviously Paul O’Connell is injured at the moment but everyone knows if he was fit, he would be here without question.
“I don’t know exactly where I fit in to be honest, but I feel I have a lot to give the squad and the team and I would love to be involved, like all the players would be,” the former Ireland ‘A’ captain admitted.
Apart from the summer tours to Japan (2005) and Argentina (2007) and a couple of autumn internationals, Cullen has not had a serious in the Irish team since 2003, when he played four times in the Six Nations and toured Samoa and Tonga with the squad.
“When you are on the sidelines and looking in from the outside, you get a little bit jealous, especially because it has been such a successful period for Irish rugby (in recent years).
“When you are involved as a younger player you feel like you will always be there.
“But when you are a out of the loop for a few years, it just makes you want it all the more. I would love to be back involved in any form at this stage,” Cullen said.
The 30-year-old agrees that his switch back to Leinster has helped keep him in the Irish management’s minds, with Eddie O’Sullivan a frequent visitor to the RDS since the end of the World Cup.
“The Leicester experience was a great experience for me, but there were things I missed about Ireland, one of them being my involvement with Leinster.
“That was a massive part of my life before I went away and it’s a great privilege to play for them again. I’m not sure whether I was out of mind being away, but being seen in action every week is an added bonus,” he added.
Linking back up with the Irish squad last week Cullen got a sense of just how eager the players are to put the World Cup behind them and mount a successful challenge for Six Nations honours.
“The World Cup is gone now. People don’t look back on the Six Nations or the Triple Crowns wins of a few years ago. This is a new competition and we’re excited about the Six Nations – it’s a massive tournament.
“I get the impression that everyone is p***ed off with how the World Cup went and they know there was so much expectation. At the end of the day it was quite a big disappointment for people.
“So everyone wants to get back to playing. When you have a defeat you just want to get back playing but at this level, it’s very difficult for a national team,” he explained.
“If they don’t perform through a certain phase then they don’t have games coming up again for a few months. That’s the case now and everyone wants to get back out there now.”