It was important that we delivered performance for all
Team effort helps Brian and Leo exit on a high
Published 06/06/2014 | 02:30
It is hard to comprehend the fact that this is my last diary entry of the season. It has flown by. A campaign that started back in September with a 42-19 win away to the Scarlets came to a conclusion on Saturday – and what a conclusion.
It was one of those days when you wake up and you are immediately looking forward to the game. The sun was out, there was little wind and you knew that the RDS pitch would be in great condition – as it always is.
I was aware that the game was sold out so, even with a sizeable Glasgow contingent, you knew that the Pro12 final atmosphere was going to be electric.
The kick-off time of 6.15 could not come quickly enough. It was like that all week.
The training schedule was the same as any other week, but there was a notable difference on the pitch. There was definitely an added intensity and an added focus as we knew how formidable a task it was going to be.
The lads not involved in the match-day 23 really put us to the pin of our collars and, on Thursday in particular, they were brilliant. We knew we would be representing them in that Pro12 final and that was a seriously motivating factor.
Seeing how well the lads played in the B&I Cup final the Friday beforehand also drove us on. They were excellent, and watching the younger lads in the squad execute with the precision that they did could only inspire you to deliver something similar.
Our preparation on Monday and Tuesday went as well as it could have done, but it was Thursday that things went somewhat off script.
With our captain's run in the RDS coming on Friday, most of us had set Thursday aside as the day to clear out our lockers in UCD and I was no different. It is mostly runners, boots and some gear, as our kitman Jonny O'Hagan looks after most of the playing kit for us. So it doesn't take too long to clear it out and have it looking good as new.
Leo and Brian cleared out their lockers like they would have done every other season since they first laced a boot with Leinster, but this time their name-tags left the dressing-room with them.
They were not the only ones. Darren, Jack, Leo and Andrew were also saying their goodbyes and in the same way, their name-tags also came off their lockers.
It is the nature of professional sport that players come and go, but Leo and Brian were more than just players to Leinster Rugby. I heard Matt voice it perfectly to the media after the game in terms of what they brought to the table. About how they still retained some of the 'mateness' from the amateur ethos and some of the other traits which came with doing it for the love of the game.
As players, as captains, as men, as mates, they will be missed but, while conscious of their departure, we made sure that it did not cloud our focus in any way. They wouldn't have wanted it that way and, to be honest, nor did we. It was important that we delivered a performance for the whole 23, the extended squad and management team and not to focus on just two players.
But as I carried my gear bag out with me, I couldn't but stop to think and to take a last look back to see the two lockers one last time. Not least because I think that I am now the old-timer in the dressing-room! I must get some tips off the two lads!
Apart from Brian leaving the pitch early, Saturday went pretty much as we had hoped and it really was one of our stand-out performances.
In advance of the game, our former team-mate Eoin O'Malley handed out the jerseys and while I won't go into that too much, suffice to say it, was great to see Eoin and it certainly focused the minds. Leo and Brian were able to exit stage left on their terms; Eoin retired at 25 with his best years ahead of him.
As for the game itself, we were delighted to be able to deliver a performance over the full 80 minutes. I really do think we played one of our best games of the year, and we knew we would have to. Glasgow brought plenty to the table as we knew they would, but I thought our defence was superb and when we got our chances we took them.
The scoreline didn't reflect how close a game it was, and the loss of players to injury in the first half didn't help their cause, but, by the same token, we had to readjust to Brian's loss and we did that well.
Again the bench was immense and everyone that came on contributed.
The celebrations afterwards were special and it was lovely to be able to walk around the pitch with my young fella. I kept him out of the dressing-room though – a bit young for a champagne shower!
Those are the special moments. In the dressing-room with the 40 or so team-mates and coaches that have delivered that performance – but unfortunately it moves on very quickly.
For some of the lads there is a well-deserved break. For some there is an Emerging Ireland trip to Romania and for the rest of us, the two-Test tour to Argentina. It is a shorter trip than normal, but I'm looking forward to it. It is also a great opportunity for the likes of Noel Reid to get more experience after having a brilliant season.
So, nearly nine months to the day from when it all started with Leinster, it's over, but with a Pro12 medal to show, it has been one of the good ones.
And while I am looking forward to the two Tests against Argentina and, indeed, the break thereafter, there is a tiny piece of me that is already dreading the Watt-Bikes and pre-season ... !
Talk to you all next season and thanks for all the support!