Saturday 3 December 2016

The Big interview: Mark Chisholm - Aussie eager to end trophy drought before he calls it a day

Veteran ex-Wallaby loving life in Limerick as he eyes first silverware since Brumbies glory days

Daragh Small

Published 26/02/2016 | 02:30

Mark Chisholm says he is still adapting to life in Limerick, but he knows he made the right choice to come to Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile
Mark Chisholm says he is still adapting to life in Limerick, but he knows he made the right choice to come to Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

Mark Chisholm hasn't won any silverware since his days with the Brumbies, but after a few years in the south-west of France, Munster was the perfect fit to further his ambitions.

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He longs to get that winning feeling back, and the province have offered him a great opportunity, with the style of rugby that he remembers best.

Yet he still needs to shake off the cobwebs, and after four years with Bayonne in Top 14, he was more accustomed to looking for the off-load than the nearest ruck.

It has been a drastic change in style, but one Chisholm feels he is finally coming to terms with. And outside rugby the 34-year-old second-row has really taken to life in Ireland.

He loves Munster, and it's people, and other than the weather he has enjoyed every minute since he came to Castletroy. He had offers from other French clubs at the time, but he hasn't looked back since he chose the Reds.

"It's been great. Coming from France into a club like Munster, it's a massive change. The professional ability and the quality of the players in the squad has been fantastic. So I am really happy," he says.

"I had a couple of chats with the French clubs. But it became more frustrating than anything else. The greatest thing about Munster and dealing with them, is that they were always honest and direct.

"And that's the way I like to think I live my life. I have got to respect that, and it is an easy decision after that."

The Australian has been capped 58 times for his country, made 102 appearances for the Brumbies prior to his stint in France, and then notched up a further 89 caps for Bayonne.

Since he arrived in Munster he has earned 16 caps and scored one try - that was a crucial effort in their 16-12 win away to Zebre at the end of January.

But despite his positive displays on the field, the Munster fans will always want more from Chisholm. He came in to try and fill the monstrous void left by Paul O'Connell.

Chisholm spoke with the former Munster lock before joining the province. And he was shocked when he heard that 'Paulie' would have to hang up his boots, and wouldn't get the chance to shine with Toulon.

Chat

"I had a lunch with a couple of the boys before I went there, and Paulie was there. I had a brief chat with him. It wasn't anything beyond that, I was just passing him in the corridors, but he was a great player," he recalls.

"You never want to see a quality player like that finish up the way he had to. And he was still a really quality player. He could have been great for as long as he wanted to.

"When you see a big player like that finishing up his career you start looking at yourself, thinking how far away am I? But it's not something I like to think about - there's a few pieces of silverware I would like to win before I hang up my boots.

"I have got a few plans for when I finish up with this game, but I'd like to think I have still got a couple of years and a few cups and silverware to win, before all of that comes to an end.

"With rugby it's really how you handle your body over the years being a lock. I can't remember how many years I have been at the top level, but being a lock you are really running into brick walls every week.

"It's how you treat yourself after the game, and how you do your recovery - that's why you see other locks like Nathan Hines and Jamie Cudmore standing the test of time playing great football."

This season was Chisholm's fifth in Europe, but his first time playing Champions Cup rugby. That didn't go as planned but he is looking to make up for that with his team in the Pro12.

Munster are down the Pro12 rankings but with their game in hand, they are poised to move up into the top six, and get back to challenge for the play-off positions before the season ends.

Chisholm knows it was a huge let-down to be dumped out of Europe. But believes the Pro12 is an achievable platform to launch a bid for his first silverware since 2004.

"That was the first European Cup that I have played so every match was a big occasion. The amount of pressure on the boys to do well because of the past Munster have, was great," he says.

"And it wasn't nice to be knocked out so early when you feel you could achieve a lot more in the competition. But in saying that now we need to focus on the Pro12 and re-gaining that top spot.

"It's tough for me coming from French rugby to fit into the style of Munster's playing. In the last couple of weeks I have had a little bit more clarity on my role and what's expected of me.

"I am looking forward to getting back on the field and taking more steps forward to cementing a great spot in the team, or helping this team get into the finals.

"It's a lot more strategic here at Munster. Strategies, and plays and positions you have got to be in. Coming from Australia, it's very similar to the Brumbies. I really liked playing that style of football. I have just got to get my mindset into that style again, which is great.

"The Pro12 would be my first silverware since the days back home in Australia. It would be great. I haven't felt that feeling in a long time but there's a long way to go yet, and a lot of hard work to put in."

Irish Independent

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