Rob Kearney: Unfulfilled tour can fire start to season
AS THE plane bringing the squad back from Australia left Sydney, I was reminded of the hopes we all had leaving five weeks ago.
The Lions tour hasn't gone how I planned it when I was first selected, but I have to accept that that's life, that's sport and things don't always go your way.
You have to get on with it as best you can and be happy for the guys who were lucky enough to experience that Test win on the field.
Then you have to channel it into motivating yourself for next season.
When I compare the way I feel today, at the end of this campaign, with this time 12 months ago, it is very different.
Last year I was very lucky injury-wise – I had played in a lot of games, won the Heineken Cup, reached the final of the RaboDirect Pro12 and then had three seriously tough Tests against New Zealand. I couldn't wait for my holidays and a break.
This time around after I had back surgery in December and then picked up the tiniest strain at the wrong time which took me out of the running for the Pro12 final and the early Lions games, I am left feeling unfulfilled.
I can't wait for pre-season to roll around again so I can get back playing some rugby.
It will be a summer of change with Joe Schmidt moving from Leinster to Ireland and Matt O'Connor coming in as his replacement. Jonathan Sexton is off to France and Isa Nacewa has retired, so there is a lot to contemplate as we look ahead.
Is it exciting? Is it daunting? It's a bit of both really – the excitement comes because of the freshness coming in to both set-ups.
I'm looking forward to getting back with Ireland because there is a sense of underachievement over the last couple of years and we're hoping for improvement.
But it is daunting too because there is an element of the unknown. There always is with new coaches. You have it in your head that you want to impress these guys – a team is only picked by one or two people, and if they don't particularly like how you play or if there are aspects that they feel may not suit the team, that can come against you too.
Moreover, I am just looking forward to getting back in there and getting stuck into it.
There is a lot of expectation coming with Joe after all the success we achieved under him at Leinster.
These things always take a little bit of time and the performances don't just automatically happen. Joe would be the first to remind people that it took some time for things to click when he arrived at Leinster.
There is a huge emphasis on the players to work hard so that his entry into the system is as seamless as possible. We will do everything in our power to make that happen.
There is a lot to look forward to in the autumn – the big matches against the big teams are what we as players look forward to. The Wallabies will have new coach Ewen McKenzie at the helm and will be on a revenge mission around Europe, and there is the old carrot of becoming the first Ireland team to beat New Zealand. There is a huge amount to play for in November.
Of course, the big talking point at home was Warren Gatland's decision to drop Brian O'Driscoll for the final Test.
You never really talk about in the squad – it is a team sport and no one man is bigger than the team.
Once it is named, there is a focus and while I am sure there were a few guys who were surprised by Warren's decision, from a squad perspective it was important that the focus was on those who were selected and on the Test match himself.
No one ever questioned how Brian would respond and he did so in typical Brian fashion, and a lot of guys admired him for that.
Only he can tell you how he is feeling, but I'd imagine it is similar to myself, just wanting to get back and right some of those wrongs.
I'm really glad that the team were able to win the series. Over the years, when the Lions have been unsuccessful a lot of people have questioned if the concept is working, if it is outdated, whether the four countries coming together as one is good for the sport. Simply, is it working?
I think we have proven that right now, it is working – the whole world got behind it and it has been massive in Australia. For the game Down Under, where they have struggled with the sport, for the whole country to get behind them is huge. It has been great for Britain and Ireland, to get together and support the one team, which is really special.
While I didn't get the opportunity, I was delighted with how it went for the Irish guys who did play in the Test series. Not just the four players who played their part last Saturday, but the seven lads who contributed to the overall effort.
They're coming home with their stock rising and they will benefit from the whole experience of the Lions tour.
There is a lot to look forward to next season and I can't wait to get back into it.