Thursday 29 September 2016

We will learn from these setbacks and get stronger

Missing out on Pro12 play-offs a bitter pill to swallow but we are a young squad full of incredibly talented players and we will bounce back

The Insider

Published 08/05/2015 | 02:30

23 February 2015; Leinster's Fergus McFadden in action during squad training. UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
23 February 2015; Leinster's Fergus McFadden in action during squad training. UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

This really does feel like Groundhog Day for my diary entry at this stage, as I'm writing it with another injury keeping me from playing this weekend. And I'm doing well to be even writing it as my right arm is in a cast, but I'll get by!

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It was three weeks ago that I broke my thumb in Marseille in the Champions Cup semi-final. I broke it towards the end of the first half against Toulon. I could feel it all right but just wanted to get to half-time and see where we were at then.

At half-time I had it assessed and I wanted to try to strap it and play on as I felt I could still contribute for the team. Unfortunately I received another knock on it when I went up for a high ball with Bryan Habana in the second half and had to be taken off.

It's a long walk along the sideline with Gareth or Karl, our physios, for company and it's one that I have made far too often this season.

Zane Kirchner came on for me and the game went on to be a nail-biter as we all know but unfortunately we came out the wrong side. Not many gave us a chance but we believed that we had the game-plan to beat them and I suppose we came closer than anyone this season.

You have to give credit to Toulon, though. People had questioned them and their age profile but they beat us after extra-time and 100 minutes of compelling rugby. They may have miles on the clock but they are miles played at the very highest level. And that experience counts for something too.

It was one of those games that was always going to be decided on the finest margins. We could and probably should have won it in normal time with opportunities that slipped away. From the sideline and watching from the bench it looked like Jimmy Gopperth struck that drop goal perfectly in the last few minutes but it was just wide of the mark.

It wasn't to be, however, and credit to Toulon who have produced the big performances they needed for three straight seasons in Europe now, which is extremely difficult.

Yes, they have money to burn but they also buy well and are well coached. The players buy into it and appreciate what is expected of them. They are now out on their own as one of a kind after winning the trophy for the third consecutive season, which had never been done before.

In the final last weekend it looked like Toulon's power and depth eventually took their toll on an impressive performance by the in-form Clermont.

Clermont must be wondering what they must do to win this competition after going so close on so many occasions.

Looking at their squad you get the feeling that this batch has maybe missed its opportunity, having let another final slip by. You think of guys like Aurelien Rougerie getting older and big names like Julien Bonnaire moving on to Lyon, I wonder will they be able to reproduce that type of run in this competition next year. Who knows?

As for us, bad enough missing out on the Champions Cup final, that was then compounded by not making the Pro12 play-off places, which was not easy to take.

The standards in Leinster have thankfully risen to new heights over the past five or six seasons and when you start winning trophy after trophy the players and fans expect to be there when the business end of the season arrives.

It's a really tough pill to swallow but I'm in no doubt that the group will learn from this setback and become stronger. When you go through the spine of the team you look at incredibly talented and experienced guys who are still in their 20s. This crop of players still has another level to get to and I'm convinced of that.

For me it's rehab, bike and weights for the moment and it doesn't get any more enjoyable when trying to deal with my fourth setback with injury this season.

I will get the cast off my arm in ten days and the pin will also be removed so my goal from there is to get as strong and as fit before pre-season starts as possible.

It's a huge year on the horizon with the World Cup creeping closer and a really exciting new season ahead with Leinster with friends like Johnny Sexton and Isa Nacewa coming home.

This weekend is really important for the club and a big performance and win against Treviso is the only thing in our minds at the moment. As a squad we want to finish the season strongly and end on a positive note, so get down to the RDS to support the boys!

Irish Independent

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