Happy to be facing into a season fully fit and keen for game time
Published 04/09/2015 | 02:30
The week before the season starts is always a nervy affair: a bit like going back to school or something. So for us to have a game at last, against Dragons at the Sportsground tonight, is a huge relief.
Working your way through pre-season isn't always the most pleasant experience, but because myself and eight of the other Connacht lads were away on the Emerging Ireland tour in Georgia, we joined up with the rest of the squad three weeks later than usual.
You might think that missing out the first few weeks of pre-season is a major bonus, that you'd get away with not doing all the running and endless reps, but it just meant we were going through our pain after everyone else had finished it.
We were definitely met with a fairly intense few days, just trying to learn all the new plays, get a grasp of the calls and keep up the training at the same time. We had to cram a bit to get up to speed, but Pat (Lam) looked after us a bit as well, we weren't thrown straight back into contact, so we got to put the same base in as everyone.
Because we were late back we took no part in the Grenoble game, but we went to Saint-Affrique in France after that with the rest of the squad for a five-day camp. To be fair, the place we were staying was beautiful, but also pretty remote. Our hotel was decent - it's always a bit of a lottery as a player travelling around and over the years we've stayed in all sorts of places.
I roomed with Darragh Leader over there which was good. Both of us are Galway lads, we're both full-backs and we often bounce ideas off each other and get clarity on things which was good.
Despite staying in the south of France we were treated to more Galway weather than Mediterranean conditions, but at least the team-bonding events were mostly water-based so it didn't matter too much.
Those type of trips are great for intense training, but the chance to mix off the field with the lads and have a laugh at the same time is brilliant. It's even more important this year because we have so many of the academy lads pushing through into the senior squad. They've trained with us all pre-season which gives them a chance to show what they can do and lets us get to know them as well.
It's funny the difference that 12 months makes. This time last year I was just coming to terms with my knee injury and this time round I can't wait to get straight into the start of a new season.
That knee injury was a real frustrating one. I picked it up in pre-season last year and honestly expected it to be just for a few weeks. I ended up missing the first half of the season until February, but it meant I was pretty hungry to get back on the team when I got the opportunity. Just getting back on the pitch, putting in consistent performances and just staying injury-free was a massive thing for me as well.
Even in previous years I've had a few injuries at frustrating times. As a result, it's a bit of a novelty that I've had a good pre-season and I am feeling good and fresh. It's been a while since I have come into September like this and I am just looking to push on now. I want to be consistent from the first game and just build on that.
Despite the injury last year, it was great to get the call to go on the Emerging Ireland tour. My form was decent at the end of the season, so to carry that on for the extra few weeks was great. Allen Clarke was coach when I was on the Ireland U-20s so it was good to work with him again, but it was still pretty intense getting so much information and being expected to know it the next day. That's the way it works under Joe Schmidt too so it was a good experience.
Tbilisi is a fine city, but the big news over there was the incident with the zoo animals breaking out. I have never seen anything like the rain that night, but we thought no more about it.
Then the next morning we woke up and we had a letter under our door saying tigers, bears and crocodiles had escaped from the zoo. We all thought it was some of the lads messing - until we went onto Sky News and saw it.
We were told to stay in the hotel for a while, but after it all blew over we could get back to the rugby. The three wins over there made it a bit easier to cope with anyway.
So it's back to business for us tonight and I have to admit, we're looking forward to playing at the Sportsground again.
Week one is always tough because you are forced to rely on old data on your opponents. That analysis is hard, so you have to focus on yourself and what you bring to the table. That will be our main focus this weekend.
We know from facing Dragons over the years that it's always a tough game. Like us, they've been improving year on year, but first up, it's important to pick up a win.
Last year we had a great season at the Sportsground and we are keen to repeat - and better - our record there this time round. We are looking at winning as many games as possible and making it really tough for teams to come here.
This evening it won't be perfect: first days never are, but the result is all-important. A win of any kind would be the perfect start to the season ahead.
Enjoy the game.