Monday 1 May 2017

Dempsey: The confidence around the place is palpable

Girvan Dempsey has had to step in to make up the numbers in training. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Girvan Dempsey has had to step in to make up the numbers in training. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Almost exactly a year on from Leinster's European doom and gloom, the landscape looks altogether more positive as the defining period of the Champions Cup edges closer.

Before Leinster entirely switch their focus to next week's visit of Montpellier, there is the small matter of seeing off Zebre, the worst side in the Pro12 - a game which will provide Leo Cullen with a chance to integrate more of his front-liners back into the side.

This time last year, Leinster were facing down the barrel of an early exit from Europe but the importance of their only pool victory (against Bath) cannot be understated.

Six players made their first European start in a win that in terms of progression to the knockout stages was ultimately meaningless, but in the grand scheme of things was crucial.

Garry Ringrose, Luke McGrath and Tadhg Furlong have since become regular starters, while James Tracy has also been capped by Ireland.

Leinster have slipped to third in the Pro12 table but they remain in firm control of their Champions Cup pool, which is a far cry from what they were facing into after the festive period last year.

Confidence is high among the squad and why wouldn't it be, but just as they didn't get caught up in the emotion last season, it is the same this time around, despite the feelgood atmosphere in UCD.

"It's palpable - it's evident around the place," Girvan Dempsey said. "You can feel the energy around the place. It was obviously challenging this time last year in terms of results and success.

"There's been a huge amount of work gone in and to be in the position we are on both fronts is very encouraging. With that, you realise the importance of this next block.

"There are some massive games in the Pro12 to make sure that we keep in touch and get into that top two. And obviously two big games in Europe that will define the rest of the season for us.

"It (last season) was frustrating more than anything but we still realised that we were in a very strong position in the Pro12.

"Europe was an outside hope that we could qualify so we were still making sure we were fighting and being proud in putting in very good performances that were justified for Leinster.

"We never really took anything for granted. It was an opportunity to give other guys that taste and we've reaped the benefits of that this year."

Looking back at that Bath game, Dempsey recalled the mindset among the squad in the week leading up to what was seen as a must-win game at home, especially having already lost at the RDS and the Aviva earlier in the campaign.

"I think for us, it was just a case that we were back in the RDS. We hadn't performed there in the previous matches we'd had in Europe, against Wasps in particular," he explained.

"We wanted to put that right and I think the guys who were given the opportunity were hungry for it.

"We worked so hard that week on a certain type of play and certain things that we were trying to achieve and I think they came to fruition.

"But it was through those guys. I don't know if it was a turning point, I think it was more of a case of us putting in a performance that we were proud of because we certainly weren't proud of some of the things we had done in the previous rounds.

"There were a number of players this time last year who stepped into the fold and did extremely well. You look back at Garry Ringrose and he wasn't a regular in the team. There were a number of guys who have come through which has been really positive.

"We're just thrilled. The work that they did in the summer and towards the end of the season has been huge and a credit to those guys."

Dempsey also brushed off the suggestion that Leinster, who have the largest talent pool in the country, would loan players to Connacht who are in the middle of a major injury crisis, as the former full-back revealed that he had to train last week to make up the numbers.

"We still need players to train here," Dempsey insisted. "I was training the other day. I donned the boots and ran around in backline opposition because we were shy in numbers as well.

"You've got to make sure you're covered. Everyone thinks we've got a glut of players.

"You look at when international times appear, and at other periods throughout the year, you need players.

"Our 'A' team drafted in club players, which is brilliant."

Irish Independent

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