"Munster was like playing for your local GAA club. The craic was 90" 3 months ago

"Munster was like playing for your local GAA club. The craic was 90"

"I was 18 when I found out there was a Leinster rugby team."

For Niall Ronan, GAA was the passion and the goal as he was growing up in Meath.

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Leinster were a few years into that professionalism lark, around 2000, and they were barely on his radar. He won the Senior Schools Leinster Championships, that year, with St. Mary's, Drogheda and was on Meath's minor panel.

Ronan started playing for Boyne RFC, a year later, and did well enough that he was called up for Ireland U19s and played in what was then known as the national academy at Clongowes, in Kildare. "It was only then," he says, "that I started thinking, 'Jeez, you can have a career from this'."

"I was in there with the likes of Denis Leamy, Stephen Keogh and Shane Jennings. They were twice the size I was. You had to turn into a man fairly quickly!"

After representing Ireland at the U21 World Championships, he was offered a Leinster contract. He was four seasons at Leinster but his time there was one of tumult and uncertainty.

Niall Ronan, Leinster, in action against The Dragons in 2005. (Credit; Brian Lawless/SPORTSFILE)

He played under Australian coach Gary Ella in his first season and got a run of games after injuries to Jennings and Keith Gleeson. He picked up the Young Player of the Year accolade but Ella was soon on his way, replaced by Declan Kidney. That was a short-lived affair and Jerry Murphy came in to steady the ship after Kidney headed back to Munster.

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Michael Cheika was Ronan's fourth head coach in four seasons but that was not the only factor in him stalling at Leinster. "I probably wasn't ready to go to the next level, and push myself to get there.

"When I look back, I didn't see the end coming. Connacht and Ulster had both enquired if I would like to join them. Cheika asked me and I said 'No'. They were possibly planning on letting me go anyway, but I didn't read the signs.

"Jennings came back from Leicester and Gleeson was offered a new contract. I contemplated retiring from rugby. I'd always had that interest in GAA, and I thought I would give that a go. Head back to my club and try make it onto the Meath panel."

Ronan, who is an ambassador for talk E.D [Erectile Dysfunction], says there were no discussions with anyone from the Meath management set-up, at the time. Thoughts of pulling on a Meath jersey were put on the back-burner, though, when Munster came calling.

Niall Ronan celebrates with his Munster teammates after winning the Celtic League in 2011. (Credit: SPORTSFILE)
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Munster were looking to fill out their back-row ranks after Tim McGann headed back to Australia and Declan Kidney had Ronan in mind.

"Deccie rang me and asked when I was playing next. We had an away game against Cork Con coming up that Saturday. Munster were going to be over in Scotland for a game, but Deccie said they'd send someone to watch me.

"By chance, Gleeson got injured and I was called into the Leinster team. I got man of the match against Edinburgh, and I signed for Munster the next week."

Ronan's dream, growing up and well into adulthood, had been to play for Meath. However, the Munster offer was far too good to refuse.

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"Munster were the best team in Europe, if not the world, at the time. For me, it was like signing for Man United."

"It was everything I could have hoped for," he adds. "There was a real family vibe to it; a community. But, if you couldn't take a slagging, you were in trouble!

"It was like playing for your local GAA club. The craic was 90."

Ronan was part of a Munster squad that won two league titles and a European Cup during his seven seasons there. Still, his stand-out memory was that close call against the All Blacks, at Thomond Park, in November 2008.

"The whole spectacle and atmosphere of that game was incredible. If you could bottle that every week, you'd never lose."

Saying that, the All Blacks did get out of Limerick with a win under their belts but it was a close call in an epic game. Ronan laughs as he recalls watching footage of the game back the next morning, without having gone to bed, at a Young Munster pub called 'The Black Hole'.

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"Once you went in," he remarks, "you didn't know when you'd get out!"

Barry Murphy is congratulated by Niall Ronan, right, after scoring a try for Munster against the All Blacks. (Credit: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE)

Injuries blighted his final two seasons with the province but, looking back, that experience at Munster is dominated by amazing memories.

"I fully enjoyed it," he says. "I came from a parish mentality of playing GAA and it being a big part of the community. At Munster, it was home from home. I played there seven years and it gives me great satisfaction that I got to represent that team over 100 times."

Now running Titan Fitness and Remote Fitness, Ronan has realised his dream of being involved with the Meath senior inter-county team. While he never did get to represent The Royal County at senior level, he is the current crop's strength and conditioning coach.

During his 'talk E.D' interview with Hector Ó hEochagáin, which can be viewed HERE, Ronan says there was plenty of GAA chat too.

"Hector coaches an Under 16 team up in Meath. He was mad to chat GAA. He's a great guy to endorse the new campaign. Many men find it hard to open up about their difficulties, but Hector has always been someone who encourages guys to talk.

"One in three men in Ireland have suffered from erectile dysfunction. The idea of the campaign, and interview series, is to encourage men to talk about it. Don't be afraid. As a society, we're more open that ever, but there's still a lot of room for improvement."

As part of the 'talk E.D' campaign, Hector Ó hEochagáin will host a seven-part video series. It sees him chatting with leading advocates on a variety of topics relating to ED including relationships and nutrition as well as physical and mental health. Dr Phil Kieran, Richie Sadlier, Niall Ronan, Allison Keating and Paula Mee are just some of those who are taking part in the series.