Jerry Flannery will join the legions of Ireland supporters cheering on Declan Kidney’s men at home on Sunday, pushing his personal disappointment to one side as his team-mates try to qualify for a Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
Most of the headlines ahead of Ireland’s decisive Pool C clash with Italy have been taken up by Nick Mallett’s comments that the Italian camp know ‘perfectly well that we have a better front row than Ireland, and we’re going to go in there to prove that on Sunday’.
Jerry Flannery, whose Rugby World Cup participation was cruelly cut short by a calf injury, could have been in the middle of the Irish front row in Dunedin.
Instead, he is facing up to some more time on the sidelines back home in Limerick. Speaking at today’s launch of Shannon’s new home jersey at Thomond Park, Flannery’s positive outlook was infectious.
He is confident that Ireland will win this weekend’s showdown and secure their place in the last-eight of the tournament, and also dismissed the relevance of Mallett’s boast.
“I’m sure he’s just trying to rile up his own players and build them up a little bit. It’s something you probably wouldn’t hear Declan Kidney saying,” Flannery told TV3 Sport.
“I don’t think you need a coach to go out there and try to build you up in the media – if a fella trusts you, he can go about it in a quiet way. I’d have 100% confidence in the Irish front row going into the weekend.
“I think it’s going to be a close game, but I’d tip Ireland to pull away from them in the last 20 minutes. It’s a very attritional game you play against the Italians.
“It’s almost a cliche, people talk about how physical Italy’s pack is – they are – but their back-line is one of the most improved in world rugby over the last two years. They have a lot of threats there as well.
“But Ireland are gaining good momentum throughout this tournament, there’s a good buzz there. I think if the lads stay patient and stick with it for the 60 minutes, they’ll get the result they want.”
It has been a rollercoaster of emotions for Flannery since he was ruled out of the World Cup just over two weeks ago. For the sake of the squad, the Munster hooker played down the disappointment but it was clearly tough to take yet another injury setback.
“It’s been up and down. Obviously I was disappointed when I got injured initially but you try and shelve that to the side because we had the big game coming up (that week) against Australia.
“I was just really, really delighted that we won. It’s a special group of players out there. I wish them all the best and I’ll keep supporting them.”
He had endured a torrid time with injuries over the past two years, missing out on his first Lions tour in 2009 after damaging his below during the pre-tour preparations in Surrey.
A troublesome calf injury has been at the root of his problems most recently, with the 32-year-old only playing eight times for Munster in the past two seasons.
He missed Ireland’s summer tour and GUINNESS Series matches in 2010 and was also forced to sit out this year’s Six Nations Championship after breaking down in a comeback game for Munster in January.
Hopes were high when Flannery made four successive appearances for Ireland during their recent World Cup warm-up games, including a 50-minute runout against England.
However, his World Cup campaign came to an abrupt end when he suffered a tear in his left calf during a training session in Auckland.
“It had been playing up a little bit for about a week before I tore it. It was a small bit of a worry. The medical staff were outstanding, they really worked so well with me over the last few months.
“I was quite confident, we had worked really hard. it was just a small bit of bad luck. These things happens in sport and you just have to get on with it.”
Flannery did get on the pitch for a 19-minute appearance against the USA in Ireland’s opening win of the pool stages, and he will never forget the honour of handing out the jerseys on the eve of the Australian game.
After the win over the Wallabies, Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll was one of the players to mention the emotional significance of Flannery doing such an act.
“I was very proud that Declan Kidney asked me to do it. It was a big moment for me, giving out the jerseys to the lads. I was a bit sad because I knew I was going home,” he admitted.
“On the other side, I didn’t make any tackles out there for the lads. That was all their own work out there, I think they were just being nice!”
Reflecting on his time in New Zealand, Flannery says he feels fortunate to have been involved in the tournament given the circumstances of his Munster colleagues David Wallace and Felix Jones, who did not even get to board the plane due to their respective knee and foot injuries.
“I still feel part of the group out there because of the work I put in. If I compare myself to David Wallace and Felix Jones, two lads that got injured and didn’t even get over there, I feel very grateful that I got a chance to go out and play and experience it because it was an amazing experience.
“I just saw how hard everyone worked during the pre-season and going into the tournament, that I just really want this group of players to succeed.”
Regarding his own return to action, Flannery is unsure of the path that lays ahead of him. He will work closely with the Munster and Ireland medical teams as he bids to put an end to his calf problems.
“I’m back in with Munster now. There’s a really good buzz in the camp, the medics are looking after me. I’m just training and looking forward to getting back on the field sometime soon,” he added.
“At the moment I don’t really know when I’ll be back (playing). I’m just trying to get my calf back into a position where we can try some different treatment methods on it, because I’ve gone a lot of routes with it and had limited success.
“The medical staff have been so good and so patient with me. I’m just waiting for them to direct me in a certain way.
“I’m going about it day to day. Ant Coole, our head of physiotherapy at Munster, is coming up with a bigger plan for me at the moment. We haven’t gone down that route yet.”
Follow the Ireland team in New Zealand on www.twitter.com/irfurugby.