Player Diary: It was like the last day of school as lads took off in all directions
Last weekend was one of those rare occasions for a pro rugby player: a full weekend off with no training and no match. While we would have all loved to have been taking on one of the French giants in Marseilles or St Etienne, the chance to restock the energy bank was most welcome.
But before all that we were put through a number of hard days on the training fields of UL and CIT by the coaching staff. We trained until Thursday and once Thursday evening came it was like the last day of school as lads took off in all directions.
With the long weekend to relax and unwind, a gang of us headed for the coast of Clare. Myself, Barry O'Mahony, Paddy Butler, Andrew Conway and Dave Kilcoyne headed down to Doonbeg on Friday evening for a few holes of golf to start the weekend and that was brilliant.
It was my first time down there and it's a spectacular place. Driving up to the hotel, it was kind of like the image I had in my head of what Hogwarts is like from the Harry Potter books. It's looks like a massive castle in the distance out by the sea and it's just a beautiful place.
We played nine holes there and then stayed in Barry's house in Kilkee for the night. We woke up the next day and played Lahinch on Saturday with a few more of my mates that came down from Limerick so there was a big group of us out there.
Just getting out into the sun and having the craic with the boys was a great way to spend the day.
So with those few days behind us, it was pretty easy to come back to training on Monday. And this week's weather has made it hugely enjoyable on the training pitch as well. It can be physically draining playing in the sun, but it sure beats the cold winter days where you can hardly feel your fingers.
On Tuesday we trained as a squad in Irish Independent Park and we saw plenty more of the good conditions. Even being able to sit outside afterwards while we were having a bite to eat felt like a treat. Hopefully we get more of the same for the match tomorrow.
Getting to train at the match venue during the week is something that we can do at this time of the year and it's most welcome. It's the same when we get to train at Thomond, it breaks up the routine and it just keeps you fresh.
Being able to run out in the same surroundings as you'll play in is great preparation. The kickers like to get a feel for the place again and with the new Red Shed a little bit closer to the pitch than the old terrace was, it is no harm for all of us to just get our bearings and be ready for tomorrow.
I've always loved playing down in Cork; Musgrave Park was always known as having the best surface to play on and since the redevelopment that doesn't seem to have changed.
You might think that we play there all the time, but tomorrow will be the first time I have played in the new Irish Independent Park. What they've done with the stadium looks really cool and I can't wait to play. The boys that have played there so far say the atmosphere is a lot more intense than before, so it'll be good to taste some of it for myself.
Kick-off is at 3.0 tomorrow, which in itself will make for a nice change. Any time I've played for Munster in Musgrave before it's been an evening kick-off under floodlights. The last time I played there during the day was years ago for Garryowen against Dolphin, but at least I won't be on the visitors' side this time.
After training on Tuesday I did a little bit of work with a few of the lads from Garryowen and Castletroy who are preparing for their U-11 and U-12s community games. It came about though a friend of mine, Ron Hogan. We ran through a few drills with the boys over in UL, some tackling, ball handling and things like that, so it was brilliant.
It's enjoyable training the young lads who are just playing for the joy of the game: they're so keen and eager to learn. It's very rewarding for me anyway, it's good to get out of the pro-game bubble too.
Tomorrow, I'll probably be directly up against Edoardo Gori. He plays for Italy too so we've faced each other a few times. He's a good player, he's unbelievably good at tackling and always seems to be in the line, putting in hits on bigger players. He's someone to look out for.
Michele Campagnaro can play at 13 or on the wing, and he's another quality international that we know from the last couple of seasons playing Italy. He has done damage in the Six Nations, in their summer tours and November so he's another player that we'll have to watch.
Everyone knows about the physicality of their pack - they'll stand up to us - but they have plenty of danger men behind that intensity too.
It'll turn out to be a long day at the office if you allow them to dominate, so we are ready to put in the hard yards.
Because there is so much up for grabs - two or three more huge performances will give us a home semi-final - we know how vital it is to treat this game just like the rest of our matches. We know there's a prize of a home semi if we win this so there is certainly a bit of a knock-out stages feel to this week and next.
The thought of playing in a semi-final in Thomond after having not played there in a long time is kind of motivating a lot of players but the main objective is to stay in the play-off zone, so I think everyone has a clear understanding of that and we're treating this week's opposition with utmost respect.