Wednesday 28 June 2017

We're ready to get great rugby weekend off to a winning start

Munster defence coach Jacques Nienaber gets among things during training. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster defence coach Jacques Nienaber gets among things during training. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Player Dairy: Jack O’Donoghue

It's amazing what a few days in the sun does for the spirit! Most lads that are not away with Ireland took the chance to do some city hopping, and it seems to have brought everyone back nice and refreshed.

Myself, Jaco Taute and Conor Oliver went to Barcelona. It was a great break for us, but especially for Jaco, who had not seen any of Europe at all - other than our Pro12 and Champions Cup away trips!

He was really blown away by the city - he's a bit of an architecture aficionado. We rented bikes one of the days, but every time we'd start off we'd only get about 100 metres because he wanted to stop and take a photo of some other amazing site.

Like all good tourists in Barcelona, we went to the Nou Camp. Luckily, there was a game on and we got to see them play Real Sociedad in the cup.

That was a brilliant experience. Going from Thomond Park's 25,600 to the Nou Camp and its 90,000-plus capacity was unreal. The result was 5-2 so we got plenty of action and goals, but just being there was great.

When you approach the ground it doesn't look that big, but once you go in you see the pitch is below ground level - it's a huge ground. It is a massive venue but there is a real similarity to Thomond about it too. Everyone in the city really buys into the match-day experience and the atmosphere around the place was incredible.

Incredible

We had brilliant seats on the middle tier, the view was incredible. It's hard to believe but it was the first soccer match that I was ever at, but I picked a great one to break my duck.

I played soccer up until the age of 14, and I still watch most of the Liverpool matches, so Anfield and Celtic Park are next on the list.

I know last season's Top 14 final was in the Nou Camp, but can you imagine if the Champions Cup final was ever held there? More than 90,000 rugby supporters in the venue would be incredible.

It's like a Colosseum - hopefully someday we see Munster fans in the stands there.

It was nice to get away though. We reset the body and mind ahead of the next few weeks - after a really heavy block of games that was vital for us.

Having just one loss in that space of time was unreal, but those exertions take a toll on the body. Like everyone, you have to get away from the office every now and again.

Everyone was a bit giddy on Monday morning this week, we all had tales from abroad, but despite having the welcome break we were all excited about coming back. We had a bit of craic in training, but at the same time we nailed down what we need to do.

Our unit's meeting on Monday had a lot of empty seats around and a lot of big characters missing from the group, but I suppose this is a chance for other lads to set the tone and lead the group in their absence.

Without those lads here it's like the few weeks around the November games again. Even myself, I see it as a chance to step up to be a leader among the squad.

Everyone has their part to play in weeks like this. We have a lot of lads that haven't got too much game-time in the last month or so and some of them will be keen to secure contracts for next year too.

Without the 13 or 14 lads in Carton House, we have to stick to the same levels that we have been playing at. At the end of the day we are one unit, and we have only ever been as good as our last game and our weakest link.

Earlier on in the week, I was asked to take part in a Q&A session in Life Style Sports on Willian Street inside in Limerick City.

There was a good crowd of supporters in for the night, but the questions were mostly coming in via social media. There was a live feed up on Facebook so the questions were coming thick and fast.

It was myself, Alex Wootton and Jean Kleyn that were in the hot seat. Jean nearly bored us to death with his stories - myself and Alex were nearly asleep in the chair - so I hope we didn't lose any supporters as a result. It was great to see everyone there and the whole night was a bit of a laugh.

In the lead-up to the event we tried to keep it under wraps from the rest of the boys in the squad, otherwise they would have tried to hijack the night.

We've seen it in the past where some smart aleck gets wind of a gig like that and tries to slip in an embarrassing question or two to throw you off. Thankfully, Dave Kilcoyne was kept busy with Ireland camp and any of the other questions that came our way were filtered out.

Considering our good run was started around November time when the internationals were away, a lot of the same lads will be playing in the next few games. After those few games, lads were genuinely pressing hard to be included in the European match-day squad.

One or two made that breakthrough and I'm sure another handful will be close to making the cut for the upcoming knockout games.

For myself there is so much to play for. I want to get my game-time up and I have plenty to work on from Rassie and Joe Schmidt - just small things that I have to improve.

With a few of the other back-rows away at the moment it is a great chance for me to catch the eye again. But priority number one has to be taking a win from Edinburgh tonight.

I'm sure there will be a good crowd at the game tonight, especially with so many Irish people in Edinburgh for the match tomorrow.

It should be a great weekend for Irish rugby in Scotland - hopefully we can get it off to a winning start in Edinburgh.

Irish Independent

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