Player Diary: On the pitch and in the stands - it's up to us all
The importance of that home draw, with 19,000 out there, is huge and it gives us a great chance to perform
Published 20/05/2016 | 02:30
Play-Off rugby. No runners-up. No second chances. No holding back. It is the only place you want to be at the end of May each season and we are there.
So much has gone into this season in the Guinness Pro12. Twenty-two rounds of games, 11 at home in the RDS and in the Aviva and 11 on the road. Every game and every round brought with it unique challenges.
Think back to Kevin McLaughlin leading us out as Club Captain against Edinburgh in Round 1. Think back to the 16-week block of games. Think about the Christmas block of games and those titanic inter-pro battles. Think back to Glasgow and Storm Desmond and a game that was pulled as we were doing our walk-through. Think back to Munster and those last moments and the way the boys put their bodies on the line. Think back to great RDS moments in front of our brilliant supporters in blue.
Think back to the contributions of players like Kevin McLaughlin and Isaac Boss over the season. Players who have given their heart and soul to the jersey and to this club not just this season but over many seasons. It really was hard to say a formal goodbye to those two great Leinster men at the recent Awards Ball and I was honoured to be invited up on stage together with Sean O'Brien to share our thoughts on the contribution and the legacy that Bossy will leave behind.
Think back over the season and the impact of the other players departing. Collie O'Shea, Tadhg Beirne and Royce. Mick McGrath who has been brilliant for Clontarf or Tony Ryan and his offload against Scarlets. Fanj, Dento and Aaron Dundon. Mads and Marty. And, of course, our Players' Player of the Year, Ben Te'o.
And yet all that is forgotten. Finishing top of the table is forgotten. It all boils down to one more game. And that game is just to get the chance to play another 80 minutes of footy.
The statistics will say that we have used 56 players in the Pro12 this season. In that there have been 11 senior debuts for Leinster. A further three senior debuts for Ireland. In that 56, ten players from our Academy have been used. But it has also been about those players outside the 56 and the backroom and coaching staff. It has been a huge effort from all involved and every one of those 56 players to get to this point in the season.
The last four. The contrast could not be more stark between where the semi-finalists are at right now and others. The other eight teams in the Pro12 are already on their first week's holiday! But again, you wouldn't swap it. Not even for a minute. We turned up to Leinster HQ on Sunday to leave no stone unturned as we prepared for our Play-Off.
The first goal? To give the coaches a selection headache.
No matter what way you look at it, 56 doesn't go in to 23. As always, everyone at Leinster is training the house down to get the chance to face Ulster and that is what you would expect but there have also been other positive signs.
The tension at training each day has gone up a notch and that extra edge is always a comforting sign in a knockout week.
The second goal? Ulster. Ah yes, Ulster!
30-6 is not a scoreline that leaves the memory bank in a hurry. As I mentioned in an earlier diary piece, any clash with Ulster is always going to be one of the hardest of the season. They easily got the better of us in Kingspan only four weeks ago and hats off to them. They are in good form and are unbeaten in four games.
But we know what we have to do to make amends for that performance. Not only for ourselves but for our loyal fans that have been by our side all season. They have been with us through the highs and lows of this campaign - some of which I mentioned above - and I personally can't wait to see a packed RDS. There is no better ground to play at than the RDS in front of 19,000+ and, believe me, it makes a huge difference.
So, one more game for the chance to play one more game. Let's leave it all out there. On the pitch. In the stands. See you all this evening.