Wednesday 28 June 2017

Player Diary: I'd love to end trophy drought but it's vital to treat this game like any other

Munster players John Ryan, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha and Cathal Sheridan warm up during squad training
Munster players John Ryan, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha and Cathal Sheridan warm up during squad training

Dave Kilcoyne

After a long 48-week season I'm glad that it's all ending with a final and the chance for silverware. We are extremely proud of the fact that we got to this stage after 23 rounds but all our hard work now comes down to tomorrow, and I think we are approaching it in the right frame of mind.

Glasgow have been knocking on the door to pick up a title for the last few seasons and as one of the best teams in the league it's fitting that they are in the final.

But I believe we deserve to be there too: we've won 16 of our 23 games in the competition; we picked up two draws as well; and we ran in 71 tries along the way, the highest tally of any team.

But we know that will mean absolutely nothing come kick-off tomorrow.

All week Axel has been making a great point that we need to be ready to play the game not the occasion. If we let all the pressures of a grand final get to us, we haven't a hope of winning. But if we treat this just like any other game we give ourselves a far better chance of success.

Honour

Looking at it from a personal point of view, it would be nice to pick up my first piece of silverware with the Munster senior team. As a province our last major honour - apart from the B&I Cup we won in 2012 - was the Magners League back in 2010-11.

I only broke into the squad the following year really, so winning my first trophy with Munster would be massive for me and I know a lot of the other lads are keen to get off the mark too.

But it is more important for the province to get back on the top step again. After three semi-final defeats in the last two years, we feel we have been there or thereabouts, but a return to a final is now our chance to stake a claim on silverware.

They say that no-one ever remembers who loses semi-finals, but I don't think we'll ever forget the fright Ospreys gave us in the last minute at Thomond Park last weekend.

At that stage I was off the field and I didn't have a bird's eye view of the knock-on that some of the other lads had, so I was panicking at the time. For a minute there I thought that we had lost out, like Ulster had the previous night.

I imagine if I was on the pitch the worry wouldn't have been as bad, but watching from the sidelines was extremely tough.

I turned to Niall O'Donovan for guidance, but even he didn't know what was going on in the final seconds. Thankfully Nigel Owens was in charge and had a calm head on his shoulders. He called for the TMO to check play and the knock-on was identified immediately. The only feeling was relief.

Overall you'd have to say it was a good team performance. A lot of the lads played well - things seemed to have been building for a while. If you look at a few of our recent performances we have been good in patches and I think we put a few more of those patches together last weekend.

For the whole squad to get that kind of a performance is a great boost ahead of another massive game tomorrow.

With another 74 minutes under the belt I feel pretty healthy this week. I was a bit sore on Sunday all right, but those aches are expected at this stage of the season and they are definitely a bit easier to deal with when you have a final around the corner.

All in all, we were pretty happy with how our set-piece went all day. The boys forced a few lineout turnovers and we did well on our own ball too, maybe we didn't maul as much as we could have, but the scrum was a real pleasing aspect.

We were pretty efficient there, especially in the first half, but after a couple of injuries in the pack we had to refocus the minds and go again after that.

I've been packing down alongside Eusebio Guinazu the last few weeks and he is a really experienced head. There is such competition for places in the front-row at the moment that the pressure is on each week to perform and I believe our scrum is benefiting from it.

After the game everyone was especially happy to have the win in the bag considering it looks like it was Paul O'Connell's last game at Thomond Park.

Any time you play with Paulie there is a certain level of emotion - that is just the nature of the way he plays. He prides himself on physicality and work-rate, and that's just really what he stands for.

I think we can all recognise and empathise with that so it was great for him to get that win in his last game in Thomond.

But once again this weekend will be all about playing the game and not the occasion. We all saw how Glasgow picked Ulster's pocket in the last minute in Scotstoun, and all of us here remember how it felt to lose to the Warriors in last year's semi-final.

We are really going to have our work cut out if we are to beat them. They are at the top of the table for a reason.

Preparations have gone well this week and heads are well screwed on. Everyone knows there is no room for errors this time and getting yourself ready for big games like this is a bit of an art in itself.

That comes with maturity and having experienced big days before.

From our previous experiences and playing Heineken Cup semi-finals, we realise that sometimes you can let emotion play too big a role. At the end of the day it is rugby and you have a job to do for 80 minutes, and it is important that you stick to that.

Irish Independent

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