last hurrah | 

Johnny Sexton opens up on how his children deal with his fame

Ireland hero is aiming to end his Six Nations career in style.

Jonathan Sexton is set to break Ronan O'Gara's Six Nations scoring record© ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne


Johnny Sexton’s daughters Amy (six) and Sophie (four) are still that bit young to have a firm grasp on what their dad could achieve at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening, but his son Luca (eight) is more tuned in.

Sexton is set to captain Ireland in their Grand Slam decider against England in what will be his last Six Nations game of his illustrious career.

Throw in the fact that Sexton is aiming to overtake Ronan O’Gara as the tournament’s all-time highest points scorer, and the stakes couldn’t be any higher.

As much as Sexton is doing his best to remove the emotion, he knows how important the occasion is set to be for his family, as well as himself.

"I go home today for, whatever, half the day and then back into camp tomorrow,” Sexton said this afternoon.

“Look, it goes over the kids' heads, most of it. They do kinda come out with some mad stuff the odd time.

“Luca is at the age now where he understands what's going on and he's looking forward to wanting to come on the pitch at the end of the game. He knows that he only comes on if we win.

“So they're the things you try to make happen, you try to give your family special moments, the supporters, the Irish people.

“We talk about them all the time but how we do that is playing well and we need to really focus on that.

“It sounds very simple but it's very hard to do in a final when you've got a lot going on. You've got these questions being asked and you've got to deal with it, then park it, and really get involved in the process."

Sexton cut a relaxed figure at the IRFU’s high performance centre today, as he fielded a range of questions about the uniqueness of this week.

Ireland are bidding to win a Grand Slam in Dublin for the first time, and while Sexton repeatedly warned of the threat that a wounded England will pose, the talismanic out-half is relishing the weekend ahead.

“It's special, of course, but it's more about the team this week and getting the best performance that we can out there. I'd never be able to live with myself if you don't turn up and play well so that's the focus.

"You take the emotion out of it, it's going to be emotional anyway. You're playing England at home with something on the line, so it's always what you've wanted to do and where you wanted to be.

“It's not the last game with this team, well I certainly hope not. We've got a lot more of the journey left so I'm not really thinking like that. I'm just thinking about trying to get out there and put in the best performance I can, then try to get everyone else on the same page.

“I'm trying to get away from it as much as I can. I knew the questions were going to come. I have got a bit more emotional as I have gone on so it will definitely be trying to hold that back but use it as well because it will hopefully be a special day."

For all that Sexton is keeping his emotions in check, he also knows that if he channels them in the right manner, then he will put him in a good place to go on and help Ireland complete the country’s fourth Grand Slam.

“That's the bit that we spoke about from the start,” Sexton maintained.

“It's never been done at home and it's something that we identified very early and said, 'Imagine this happening, imagine having a shot at it at home in front of your family, friends' and now it's a big occasion.

"It's about dealing with that, embracing it and getting a good performance out there that warrants putting us in a position to win the game.

“Like we said from the start, this is where we wanted to be. There's no point in going in on ourselves now. What's got us to this point is good performances, probably not where we wanted it to be across all the games but we're hoping that we can get our best performance out there of the campaign, that's what we're certainly trying to do."

At 37, Sexton remains at the top of his game, which is a remarkable show of his mental and physical strength. Asked what the secret to his longevity, Sexton smiled:

“I'd say you'd get a better answer out of somebody else. For me, luck, being able to, touch wood, be able to avoid those big injuries that you see cruelly happen to some players.

"Recently Dan Leavy, top of his game, the number seven jersey and then it's all finished in one moment. So luck is a huge part of it.

“Being able to bounce back from adversity, maybe. I've had plenty of bad days, plenty of criticism, scrutiny and just being able to bounce back from those bad moments. Those two things.”

As for the prospect of overtaking O’Gara at the top of the points scoring leaderboard, he laughed:

“We were talking last week after I got asked about it here. I haven’t spoken to him this week. I’ve had the phone off (with) people looking for tickets.

“He hasn’t asked me for tickets yet but no, we talk not regularly, but we talk from time to time and often it’s about everything except rugby.

“It’s funny how we’re both level now. I hope I get out there on Saturday and score so we can win.

“It’s not to beat the record but it’s obviously very special to be up there with him, someone that I admired for so many years, and you look at other guys on the list I’m not sure it will last very long if I do get it because I think Owen Farrell will go and smash it. “But, look, take it as it comes.”

As the questions kept coming about Saturday being his final Six Nations game, true to form, Sexton was quick to point to the bigger picture in terms of the World Cup later this year.

“Your 100th cap or something like that, you do feel that sense of occasion,” he added.

“This is the last Six Nations game but there's so much ahead, please God, if I stay lucky and avoid injuries.

“There's hopefully a World Cup, there's hopefully some knockout games with Leinster ahead in the Aviva so I'm trying to get away from the fact that it's this big last thing. It's just a cup final and that's all we're thinking about.”

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