Everyone at Munster feels better when Paul is playing – Kilcoyne
DAVE KILCOYNE captured perfectly the mood around the Munster camp now that Paul O'Connell has made a playing return to the side.
The Ireland and Munster prop spoke of the calming influence O'Connell has on his team-mates. He doesn't need to even say very much, it's simply a feeling that envelops the squad and in particular the pack when their spiritual leader is in his playing uniform.
"He gives everyone a lift," said Kilcoyne. "It's great to have him back – the players, supporters, management, everyone really feels better when he's playing."
It's been a frustrating couple of months for both O'Connell and Kilcoyne, for very different reasons.
Kilcoyne was on the bench for all of Ireland's Six Nations games as the back-up loosehead. When Cian Healy was suspended for the game against France, the logical assumption was that the Limerick native would step into the breach.
The Ireland management thought otherwise and parachuted Ulster's Tom Court into the starting team, with Kilcoyne remaining on the bench. It was one of the stranger decisions taken during a bizarre campaign.
Kilcoyne was understandably tight-lipped on the obvious frustrations – "Yeah, it was very tough" – but the experience of being in his first Six Nations camp will certainly benefit him. He is also likely to be Ireland's starting loosehead on their tour to America if, as is expected, Healy is selected for the Lions.
His more immediate concern is to build up his match fitness in time for Munster's Heineken Cup quarter-final against Harlequins.
"I was blowing for the first 15 or 20 minutes against Connacht, but that's to be expected after not playing much over the last couple of months," he said.
"You can't compensate for game time so it's great to get that 70 minutes under the belt now."
Munster, who are away to second-placed Glasgow Warriors on Friday night, are entering the most frenetic part of their season. They are still chasing one of the four play-off spots in the Pro12 on top of their European adventure.
Qualification for the league is probably beyond them, given the seven points and two places that separate them from fourth place. Their performance on Saturday, though, is a strong indication of their determination not to give up.
"We're facing into our biggest part of the season, the knockout stages. Every game is massive for us from here on," said Kilcoyne.
"We know it's going to be difficult but we also know what we have to do."