Mayo camp has us all in great form ahead of huge Leinster tie
Published 18/03/2016 | 02:30
The Westport locals tell us they have this sunny weather all the time up here, and while the sun on our backs made our training camp very enjoyable, I'm not sure about their meteorological statements!
But what a time we had in Co Mayo for the two days and nights we spent there earlier this week. We trained in Rice College who were very hospitable, while the red carpet welcome rolled out for us by the Clew Bay Hotel was memorable. We've had a great time and it was a great way to start our preparation for facing Leinster next weekend.
The facilities in Rice College are very good and we had pitch sessions there on Monday and Tuesday. We did a good running session to blow out the lungs a bit after the few days off, so that set the tone for us, and we slotted in a few gym sessions too to keep us ticking along.
Being away in camp means you can stay a little bit longer on the pitch and put a bit more time into your team meetings. We got some good video work done and managed to fine-tune a few things that needed work ahead of Leinster.
After a week away from everyone it was nice to get back together as a group. On Monday evening we had some good team downtime with a quiz - it's always pleasing, but a bit boring to be on the winning team again - although the standard was pretty poor from a lot of groups.
As usual, the banter was flying as lads got a bit hot under the collar when their answers were wrong, but it's those kind of events that make training camps enjoyable.
We had a few new faces with us for the camp too; a few of the academy lads have been training with us in the recent weeks and months, the likes of Cormac Brennan and Rory Maloney, so it was good for them to really get to know the lads too. And we had guys like Quinn Roux, John Cooney and Shane Delahunt who are just back from injury, so they need time to assimilate themselves again.
I didn't make it up to the Ireland match at the weekend but I was delighted to see our five representatives all on the pitch at the same time against Italy. That's something that has never been done before so it was a huge achievement for the province. Seeing all the boys there is a massive incentive for everyone in Connacht, and it really tells us what an impressive season we're having when we can have five lads playing Six Nations for Ireland.
I was especially happy for Finlay to win his first cap, and people might wonder how he got to that standard so quickly. But he has worked incredibly hard on his game in the last few seasons and has hit a rich vein of form.
He has scrummaged really well for us all year and as someone who is comfortable on both sides of the scrum, he's a valuable and talented squad member.
But that's been Pat's ethos from the start - he wanted to provide as many players as possible to the Irish set-up. He told us this week that he wants to get even more Connacht lads involved in the future, but we know that will only come from us performing well for our province.
The goal now is to push a few more faces into the Ireland touring squad for South Africa this summer.
From a personal point of view, I'm really enjoying my rugby right now. I'm coming towards the latter end of my career at 33 years of age, but I still enjoy coming in to training every morning. When we were on a 13-game losing streak a few years back, I enjoyed coming in as we sought to get better and the same buzz is still there for me. The brand of rugby we play and the lads in the squad make it an enjoyable team to play with, so hopefully we can make it even better in the coming months.
There is a huge amount to play for this season, but the coaches have already started to look towards next season with the signing of Marnitz Boshoff. When Pat told me we had signed him, I did a bit of research on him and he looks to be a real solid out-half.
It was disappointing to see that he was dropped by the Lions - probably after he informed them of his impending departure - but at least that means we'll be getting him fresh and keen for action.
What he will bring is more competition to the No 10 shirt along with the lads we have in there. We have seen here that it's the lads with most competition who perform the best, so we'd expect to see the same in that position.
But before any of that kicks in we have the small matter of an inter-pro derby with Leinster to look forward to. And one thing for sure the Sportsground will be rocking - it's a huge game for both teams. We feel that the pressure is on them to come down here and perform.
Everyone is expecting the so-called 'Connacht bubble' to burst and for us to fall away in the coming weeks, but that's a good challenge for us.
But the feeling here is that there is no pressure on us ahead of this game. I already have had six or seven calls from people looking for tickets for this one, so we know the game has captured the imagination a bit.
But they are a top side and Leinster were always going to be in the top four. They were ravaged by the World Cup, but since then their quality has come to the fore. But we'll go out and do what we've been doing and hopefully it will be enough to take the win. We're looking forward to it.