It's been fun, but the real stuff starts now . . .
With one last chance to impress coaching team, everyone wants to put their hands up against Moseley
So after a summer of stewing on 'what ifs', of changes behind the scenes and of 25 World Cup call-ups, the question was: what would Leinster HQ look like come the first of July and the start of pre-season?
I am glad to say that it has been business as usual. From the first day back the whole squad knew about Leo (Cullen) taking over on an interim basis which was a very popular decision among the players. He knows what it takes to get the best out of the squad and what it means to pull on the Leinster shirt.
The question then was when would interim become full-time because very quickly we saw that this was a good fit. Last week we got that answer when the word 'interim' was cast aside. Leo had told us in advance that he had been offered the role so there was no real surprise but it was good to have it finally sorted.
It would be a massive challenge for any coach losing 25 of your best players to international duty but it has all been handled really well by Leo but also by his right-hand men - Girv, Fogs and Kurt.
Again as always we were split into mini teams for pre-season. You could earn points by hitting your gym targets or winning the fitness challenges but you could also lose points for being late, wearing the wrong gear or not tidying up etc. After a tough seven weeks of training it was won by the bad boys of pre-season who amazingly had the most points deducted and still won. Named 'The Grounds Men' and captained by Aaron Dundon, there is a message in there somewhere for the rest of us and how we should apply ourselves ... but I'm not sure it's the right message!
As I have always said, we are very lucky in Leinster to have what I believe is the best S&C staff in world rugby. They always keep training interesting and fun.
For example during some of our fitness blocks in our rest time we undertook mental skills challenges just to get the mind working under fatigue. I was no great scholar, as nearly all my teachers will testify to, but listening to some of the answers during a simple maths task one day I left training feeling like Einstein. There is good craic, but there is also no hiding. Everything is monitored by GPS systems. Another example of the work the S&C guys put in.
All the hard work of the last seven weeks paid off last Friday when we got a tough win against Ulster. It was played at an incredibly high pace because most people were only playing 40 minutes so the ball was being run from everywhere.
Some of the young players really stood up with Adam Byrne causing Ulster a lot of problems down the right wing. Jack Conan fresh from making his debut for Ireland the week before came on at half-time for a very impressive 40, which included a nice try.
Another one to impress was Clontarf man Tony Ryan who had a busy half of rugby.
I know what it's like for Tony having been in a similar position two years ago with a short-term contract and hoping to grab every opportunity you get. I wish him well.
We did manage to break up all the hard work of pre season with our squad golf day out in Corrstown Golf Club. Golf certainly wasn't the winner but it was a great social event.
There are plenty of bandits in the squad at the moment that the GUI might need to look at their handicaps - Luke McGrath and Cathal Marsh are two names that should be under review. But the highlight was Mick McGrath's amazing tee-shot on the first where he managed to send his club 80 yards left into a tree and his ball about 60 yards right to the shock of some of the local members watching on.
In typical PGA Tour style, the play off-was a games of rock-paper-scissors which Noel Reid, Cian Kelleher and new recruit Tony Ryan's team won. A big thanks to Corrstown Golf Club and their staff who looked after us so well.
Looking ahead to this evening against Moseley, it should be a very exciting game and a great opportunity for the Leinster fans to see lots of our younger squad members get a chance to impress the coaches. Here's to tonight and a great season for us all!
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