"It was a complete and utter shock when Joe's name came up on my phone" - Devin Toner
"It was a complete shock."
Even now, a little over two months on, Devin Toner is at pains to talk about it.
The Leinster lock kept his counsel during the entire World Cup, after he missed out on Ireland's 31-man squad, but with life moving on and the focus back on the provinces, he is ready to open up about a tough couple of months.
On September 1, a whole week before Ireland were due to announce their squad for Japan, word leaked out that Toner, Kieran Marmion and Jordi Murphy had been the three big casualties. Most reports coming out on September 2 were eerily close to accurate so the IRFU saved us all the suspense and released their squad six days early.
Sure enough, Toner, a 67-cap veteran and key player in the 2018 Grand Slam success, was not included. Neither were Marmion or Murphy. Will Addison was the other fancied player to miss out, with Chris Farrell getting the nod.
Speaking to us at Dundrum Town Centre - at the launch event for NOW TV's Sports Extra Pass - Toner opened up on the "shock" of missing the cut after playing 60 Tests for Ireland coach Joe Schmidt over six memorable years.
On the same day as Toner's cut was confirmed, Schmidt said, ""I've coached Dev for 10 years. Not only is he a lineout champion, but he's such a good player and... an absolutely quality person."
Schmidt had touched on Toner not getting a full run of pre-season and matches due to injuries, but the 33-year-old says he felt in good shape during the summer.
"I had the ankle injury last season, and then I came back and played the tail-end of it. Then I hurt my knee against Munster [in the PRO14 semi-final] and that was only a three week thing. I then came back and did a pre-season and I felt I trained pretty well.
"I felt I played pretty well, too, in the pre-season games but I wouldn't put it [my non-selection] down to injuries or anything like that. I'm not sure, to be honest. As far as I was concerned, I was fit and raring to go."
Toner continued, "I didn't know [I was going to miss out] at all. It was a complete and utter shock when I saw Joe's name come up on the phone. Complete and utter shock. I didn't see it coming.
"If you are looking back, in hindsight, I suppose I did not show him enough, maybe in training or maybe in the games. I haven't really dwelled on it too much, but it was a complete shock... It wasn't that long of a chat [with Joe] because once I saw his name coming up, and he started chatting, I saw the writing was on the wall and I knew I wasn't going and I didn't want to really prolong it. It was a short enough chat but it was a hard one."
Toner returned to his Leinster squad while the rest of the Ireland team packed up and headed for Japan, where they would last until the quarter finals before running into an unforgiving New Zealand side. He has started five games for Leinster and the Guinness PRO14 champions are top of their conference with six wins from six.
For Toner, he says the immediate focus is continuing Leinster's strong start to the season and taking it on into the Champions Cup. His pesonal goals are allied to Leinster's - a league three-in-a-row and that fifth European Cup trophy that means a fifth star will be stitched on the blue jersey next season.
He has an extra one, though. To get back into the Ireland squad.
"I just want to put my hand up and say that, obviously, I'm still here, I'm still playing and I'm raring to go. I still have ambitions to play in the Ireland shirt."
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