The easy road is probably the only NSW byway that Australian Schoolboys representative Jesse Cronin and his family have not taken over the past three years.
They don’t give away green and gold jerseys, but few others will have undertaken the hard work, long hours of travelling and the determination to return from long-term and potentially career threatening injury that Cronin has taken in his stride.
The 18-year-old, from Rutherford, who signed with the Parrammatta Eels as a 15-year-old, has had a year to remember winning the SG Ball title, national under-18 title and also his club’s best and fairest and best clubman awards.
Cronin thought his dreams had come true when he played a pivotal role in the NSW Combined High Schools’ national title win, but there was one more well deserved honour.
“The feeling of wearing the Australian jersey after the team was announced was incredible. You are numb, you just don’t know what to say,” Cronin said. “It made all the hard times worthwhile.
“It took a long while to sink in, I still have to look at the photos to realise it’s true
“I never thought I was good enough. This has made me realise I have potential.”
The Eels certainly see the potential and many at the club liken their young charge’s work ethic and determination to that of his namesake and club legend Mick Cronin. The two are not related, but Cronin is delighted although humbled by the comparisons.
Given the journey he and his parents Peter and Rachel have taken, it is well deserved.
Balancing the demands of an apprenticeship, school study and travelling to Sydney for three training sessions a week was a burden shared by the family.
And then there were the injuries.
Peter recalls vividly the fear he felt sitting by Jesse’s side in the Prince Alfred Hospital after the youngster suffered a sickening head knock.
Cronin was left unconscious for several hours and subsequently ruled out for the 2016 season after just his third game in SG Ball.
“It was very scary for me,” his father Peter said. “I ended up at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, I had no idea where we were and then sat in the hospital for four hours before they let him come home.”
Young Cronin said he was relieved his mother wasn’t there.
“It was pretty bad. I put my head in the wrong spot. I was in a coma for six hours. Dad was scared he was right beside me. Mum wasn’t there thank god.”
Cronin said he was sidelined for nine months when the severity of the knock became apparent.
“I was coming back six weeks after that knock. I went to training and Caylo (coach Nathan Cayless) put me through a fitness test. I got halfway through it and just collapsed.
“He just said ‘no more’ for this season.
“I had dizzy spells for a fair while. It’s all good now from the doctor’s point of view.”
Finally given the all-clear to train again, Cronin’s 2017 preseason with the Eels SG Ball team was cut short when he contracted pleurisy.
“That was tough, I couldn’t do anything, it knocked me about pretty badly. It was really frustrating after missing the nine months,” he said.
Despite, not having a preseason he did enough to impress Cayless to be named in the Eels’ first game of the season. But injury struck again, this time a knee injury which was initially diagnosed as season ending.
“I came back early and was able to play nine games for the season,” Cronin said.
“It was incredible to win the SG Ball title and then the national title and of course the under-18 championships after that.”
Cronin said the incredible support of his parents Peter and Rachel and encouragement of his brothers Nathan and Peter had enabled him to persevere.
Peter said he lived on Red Bull for the first couple of years while relaying Jesse to Sydney for training while working late shift.
“I’d come off dog-watch, jump into bed at 9 o’clock, get up at 1pm to take him to training at Parramatta. I’d come back and the boys in the car crew would pick me up at 9.45pm to go and do night shift again.
“I’m very proud, because it’s been a family commitment.
“When Parramatta offered a contract when he was 15, as a parent how do you know you are doing the right thing? We just thought take it day by day.
“Last year, the Eels said we want Jesse full-time now. I said ‘I can’t get him there five days a week’. His mother lost a job over the travelling and had to start a new one.
“Jesse had to move down there. We can all say it’s been worth it now.”