Ready to get back in the thick of things despite pre-season blisters
Published 02/09/2016 | 02:30
It doesn't really feel like three months since Edinburgh, but suddenly we're back on the eve of a new season with everything to play for again.
And so much has happened in that three months that it's hard to believe I made my Ireland debut on a South African tour, had a few weeks' holidays and have gone through a pre-season already.
Time was tight between the celebrations in May and my call-up to the Ireland squad, but I was delighted to get the call from Joe. It turned into a great tour, a really enjoyable experience, and to make a couple of appearances for Ireland was a dream come true.
The one downside of playing during the summer is that your comeback to training is staggered a little bit compared to the rest of the squad. It's something I've experienced before with Emerging Ireland tours, but it's always tricky to manage.
You get your four weeks' holidays when you get back - after a long 12-month season last year I looked forward to the break - but once you get back in you are a couple of weeks behind the lads. Everyone seems to be well ahead in the S&C programmes; they have even started the rugby work as well.
But you need your break as well. That rugby/rest balance needs to be struck. You have to rest and then work a bit harder to catch up when you get back in.
One thing I noticed was how quickly your skills level drops off if you don't keep working at it. I suppose you can't really expect to come in after four weeks away and be at the peak that we were last season, but it took a while to find the sweet spot again. But we always set high standards for ourselves in our skills especially. That helped us to win the league last year and it's something we pride ourselves on.
The first week is always tough because you haven't touched a ball in the few weeks, so it takes a few sessions to feel like the ball is natural in your hand again. But after one or two drops, there is no room for excuses.
Because of the player welfare programme it's a bit different for me this year and I wasn't allowed to play pre-season games. You obviously want to hit the season running, and be as ready as you can. It's not something I'm used to; I've always played pre-season games, but the player welfare programme is there for a reason. My aim is to get straight back into it, so hopefully I'll be involved in some part this weekend.
While I wasn't involved in the action, I know the lads were delighted to get a training hit-out against Sale last week. I didn't make the trip to Manchester because I was over in Irish camp for a few days and I ended up getting pretty horrific blisters on my feet - a combination of wearing new boots and the firm ground.
The pitches at Carton House are very good, but I brought the wrong boots with me. My studs were bigger than I should have had in and after the summer I probably wasn't as toughened as usual, but I tore the skin off my right foot. It was pretty painful, but it's something that you have to grin and bear. We were in camp from Sunday to Tuesday, so it was a hectic couple of days in preparation for the November Series.
It was still a big squad that got together and I'm sure it will be smaller for the trip to Chicago, but it is good to get to know all the lads. Getting that experience in the summer tour was brilliant so it's beginning to feel a little less strange every time I join up.
Despite missing out on the Sale trip, I watched the training footage from the session. There was a drone over the pitch and that gave some great footage and some interesting angles.
I'm sure it's brilliant for the coaches - they can see who's in shape, who knows their plays and who is falling behind. There's no hiding place from a drone!
But it was brilliant to see it, the lads put in a good shift against a quality side. It wasn't really a game as such, but it was great to run some plays and scenarios at a semi-competitive level.
But the real action starts tomorrow against Glasgow. This is our third home game in a row against them and obviously you could tell when we beat them back-to-back last season to reach the final that they were hurting. As champions it must have been difficult for them. They are a fantastic side with quality internationals all over the pitch and they'll be coming over here looking for revenge.
The last game of the regular season against them it was lashing rain and we just came out on top in the end. The semi-final was a perfect day for rugby and both teams showed their class and threw the ball around a bit. Whatever the weather, both sides can perform.
We're looking forward to a good, physical battle again too. I'm sure Dan McFarland will have his pack well primed to hope to get their bit of revenge.
And it'll be a real tough game. As John Muldoon reminded us this week, every time we played them recently there has only been one score in it either way, so we're expecting another really tight one. Both teams have good defences as well so don't be surprised to see a couple of points in it either way at the end.