My first pre-season was horrible. I was 19, I didn't know what hit me
Published 28/08/2015 | 02:30
It's eight or nine weeks since we rolled up for our first day of pre-season and to come out the other side of it and to be so close to competitive action is a great feeling.
Pre-season camp has a unique way of chewing you up and spitting you out; you just hope that at the end of it all that you're primed for a good run at the new campaign.
I wasn't involved in either of the games so far, so I've had a good, long summer of hard work behind me. I've gotten myself into pretty good condition physically and I'm in a good place mentally too.
I'm just looking forward to getting back on to the pitch and putting that groundwork to good use.
Because the workload is so intense we haven't had too many days off in the last two months. The structure for pre-season was a light week, a medium week, followed by a heavy week. After that the cycle would start again after a couple of days off to recharge.
A heavy week involves our usual Monday and Thursday strength and conditioning days, plus two pitch sessions on a Tuesday and Friday as well.
It was quite taxing on the body and the mind, and coming to the end of a week on Friday afternoon it was hard. The mind can wander a little with a long week's work behind you, but the prospect of a light week around the corner always seemed to get us through.
For the younger lads I'd say there was a lot of time spent in bed recovering, and they have my full sympathy.
This was my fifth pre-season, so I knew what to expect. Your base level of tolerance for the hard work increases year on year and once you have a few of them behind you your body is ready for it.
But I'll never forget my first pre-season at age 19. I didn't know what hit me; I never realised it would be such miserable work.
That was back when Tony McGahan was our coach and Paul Derbyshire was head of S&C.
Paul ran a fairly brutal ship, so for a 19-year-old coming in trying to find his feet and his voice in amongst the more experienced lads, it was quite a rude awakening.
I'll always remember how horrible that summer was, but thankfully I've gotten stronger and fitter every year and I can tolerate it a bit better now.
Towards the end of last season, I had a bit of trouble with my back, but I had some treatment which seemed to settle things down. It gave me a bit of trouble on and off but I got back in time for the Pro12 final.
Over the summer it had a bit of a chance to settle down and it has been grand since apart from the occasional stiff spells. Thankfully, I've been able to train away with it.
Right across the squad we seem to have plenty of lads champing at the bit for places on the team. It will be an interesting season with the individual battles ahead of us.
Including myself, we have four very good hookers now, with very little between us all.
I was a bit fortunate in the last couple of seasons when I got opportunities on the back of injuries to lads ahead of me in the pecking order. But as I saw myself towards the end to last season, someone else will always be ready to take their opportunity.
You really have to be on your toes and perform when you are handed your opportunities.
The hookers have played very well in the two games to date, but most of all it's great to see Mike Sherry back in the set-up. Despite being rivals for the No 2 shirt we're good pals and I was delighted to see him come through the game.
It was great to see that Mike hasn't loss the hooker's knack of being in the right place at the right time either.
We tend to find ourselves at the back of mauls when they are than close to the line. We like to make sure we're there, push lads out of the way to get in pole position, and I'm sure scoring that try was a big buzz for him. He went on to have a very busy half after that so fair play to him.
As well as Francis Saili coming in, we have a couple of new faces here in Matt D'Arcy and Jordan Coghlan. Matt has impressed everyone in the way he's trained and played and I'm sure he's going to be a big player for us.
Jordan is another impressive guy - I'm not sure if he's a Cough-lan or Cock-lan, although he has some Cork link there. He is a really good athlete and is a big, strong player and he's fitted in really well too.
We'll all be thinking of the Munster lads up in the Ireland camp this weekend as they wait for news if they have made the 31-man squad for the World Cup.
They'll be on edge and from talking to a few of them they haven't a clue if they're going or not.
Everyone is on their toes in training which is great for driving standards, but hopefully they'll all make the cut.
Back on the home front, the Connacht game was disappointing for all of us. Within the group people were frustrated about going from a decent performance against Grenoble in our first outing, to a lacklustre display against Connacht.
It leaves us with a few more problems to work on, but that's what pre-season games are for. We want to see the weak areas now and to work on the issues before the Pro12 opener against Treviso.
It's not as if points are up for grabs this weekend, so I'm very confident that the lads will put it right this weekend with a very good performance.