Andrew Conway and the Jerry Flannery conversation that summed up his career
"As far as the high-ball was concerned, we want our wingers to go 100% and Andrew certainly typified that." - Andy Farrell, 2022
Andrew Conway had to wait until he was 25 before he made his Ireland debut, and until he was 28 to start getting a decent run of games in the green jersey.
The Dubliner was one of the few Irish players to emerge from a tough 2019 World Cup with any credit - three tries in three games - and he delivered the best version of himself in 2021/22 - helping his team to a win over the All Blacks and a Triple Crown. He ended up with 30 caps and could have made a good dart for 50 had injuries not intervened. We could have certainly done with him, and his tigerish qualities, at the recent World Cup.
Ireland will miss him but the biggest blow comes to Munster and the fans that look upon him, with his Dublin affectations, as one of their own. Conway won a league and Challenge Cup title with Leinster but he was one of Munster's best players of the past decade.
Conway almost joined Munster when he was coming out of school at Blackrock College. He has fond memories of attending some big European games involving Munster with his father and the occasions obviously planted a seed. Conway and his father toured the Munster facilities when he was a sixth year student and a top rugby prospect.
He ultimately ended up going closer to home with Leinster and made his senior debut in February 2010. Within two and a half years, though, he was fancying a chance of scenery. He was mulling a switch to Munster but Leinster legend Isa Nacewa attempted to intervene.
Andrew Conway on moving to Munster
Andrew Conway was 21 when he decided to move and, sure enough, the 'Munster option came up'.
"I had a gut feeling to go," he told us. "Isa even called me to one side and, I believe, he said, 'Look, I'm retiring at the end of the year'. This was his first retirement. Isa said, 'I'm retiring so there's going to be more opportunities'.
"I said to him, 'It's not about that. I'm just going with my gut here and I feel it's the right thing to do'.
"It wasn't an immediate success. My first year was a very tough one. I had a couple of injuries and not a lot of opportunities. Even looking back now, I was naive to the fact that if that hadn't went well over the first year or two, I would have been 22, 23 and there would be home-grown guys coming up in my position. I could have been out the door very quickly'."
Conway ended up playing 150 times for Munster and scoring 50 tries, including quite a few memorable ones.
If there was a Conway score that epitomised what he could do to the toughest teams, on his best days, it was his late winner against Toulon, at Thomond Park:
We will NEVER forget this ❤️
Andrew Conway will be sorely missed. 😔 pic.twitter.com/FEFOuXqKBD
— RugbyLAD 🏉 (@RugbyLAD7) November 9, 2023
Jerry Flannery on his chat with Andrew Conway
Two Munster legends were crucial in shaping the Munster character, and player, that Andrew Conway was.
Last year, as he looked ahead to a season he would not end up playing [due to injury], Conway told us about the advice Paul O'Connell offered him:
"Paul O'Connell was very good to me, when I first came down to Munster. As he was retiring [from Munster in 2015], I was cheeky enough to tap him up for advice.
"That was me not really realising that the man had two kids, at the time, and was probably having people pulling him left and right. Here's this Irish rugby legend and I'm asking him to sit down for coffee a couple of times. But he gave me all the time in the world.
"I remember going for a walk with him, once, and going for a coffee, another time, and there were another couple of times, as well. He was a busy man and was getting people pulling him in all directions, and he was good enough to sit down with me and make a proper effort. He listened to what I was saying and where I was coming from.
"He sent me this big email, after we had gone back and forth, which was essentially bullet points of everything he felt was important. It was time-consuming stuff."
The winger never forgot that gesture, and the time given, by O'Connell and he tries his best to pay that forward now. "It's essential for the senior players to do that, if asked. You don't want to be going around trying to impart wisdom, ands having lads saying, 'Go away'. You don't want to be that guy.
"But, if you're asked, you try to help as much as possible. I'm still learning now, though. 100%. I'm learning from some of the young lads that are coming in. Someone like Craig Casey is amazing, in the attitude that he has brought."
Jerry Flannery once spoke about Conway on House of Rugby, and pin-pointed a massive improvement that transformed him as a player and ending up leading to so many of his Test caps.
Flannery recalled telling Conway that a €50,000 to €100,000 difference in a players' contract could be working on a couple of skill-sets that would give him a point of difference to his peers, and jersey rivals. The winger went from just being known for the slaloming runs to a guy that dug in with defensive sets, upped his work-rate and who was one of the very best in aerial battles. He ended up getting that improved contract.
There was a 17 month gap between Andrew Conway's 149th cap for Munster and the 150 landmark. In between, he had surgery, set-backs, rehabs, scheduled returns, dashed hopes, light at the end of the tunnel and plenty of moments when he must have asked if was all worth it.
We hope that slog was all worth it for what turned out to be his 150th Munster appearance. The defending URC champs beat Sharks and, typical of the guy, Conway scored a try.
We thought this was the restart. Instead, it was the end.
Releasing a statement, on Thursday, after taking the decision to retire from rugby, Andrew Conway commented:
'I've been very fortunate to have been coached by some fantastic people. Thank you all. In particular to Felix Jones for showing me the way, Andy Farrell for having such belief in me and Graham Rowntree for your support in these tough times.
'To my team-mates from my first Leinster cap in 2010 all the way to my last Munster cap last month. It was an honour to go to battle with you all. I’m more grateful than words can express. Thank you to all those in Blackrock College, Blackrock College RFC and Leinster Rugby for giving me my first opportunities in the game.
'My love for Munster goes back to the 2006 European Cup final in Cardiff with my Dad. I’ll never forget walking into the stadium to see it full of red jerseys, the cameras panning to O’Connell street in Limerick… it was always Munster. To play for this great club was the best decision I ever made. Thank you to all the Munster supporters that embraced me as one of your own!
'Playing for Ireland was my dream come true. Singing the national anthem with my team-mates, watched on by family and friends was the proudest I’ve ever been.
'To my parents and sisters, thank you for your unconditional support over the years. Through the ups and downs I’ve always known you were there for me and it meant so much to share the journey with you all.
'To my wife Liz, it’s no coincidence that my career started to take off when you moved down to Limerick. Your support and sacrifices over the years have driven me on more than you’ll ever know. Having you in the stands for game days always gave me comfort and I’ll forever cherish the last day with yourself and Hailey in Thomond Park.'
'Lastly,' he concluded, 'I’ll miss the big days in red and green but not as much as the daily pursuit and shared team goal of reaching our potential.
'I’m not exactly sure what is next but I’m very excited to take all the learnings from the last 14 years into the next chapter.'
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