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I really want to go out on a high

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Leinster's Andrew Conway. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.

Leinster's Andrew Conway. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.

Leinster's Andrew Conway. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.

A SEASON'S efforts which started a little under nine months ago will all come down to one 80-minute battle. For Andrew Conway, the last week of this chapter of his Leinster career has been bitter-sweet.

Next year, the Blackrock College winger will wear the red of Munster and although excited about what the future will hold, he admits to feeling mixed emotions as the squad builds up for the visit of high-flying Ulster in tomorrow evening's RaboDirect PRO12 final.

Conway was delighted to be a part of the Amlin Challenge Cup success last weekend. His form over recent weeks has been of a high standard and to take the field on the RDS in a momentous European encounter was a real thrill, he said.

As news filtered through of the 'A' team's victory in Newcastle in the British & Irish Cup, you could visibly see the extended joy on the entire team's faces to make it an especially special evening.

"The important thing was that both teams won. And it was nice to play a small part in the B&I Cup success over the season.

"The B&I Cup has given the likes of myself and a number of other players a great platform to gain experience against some really strong sides. And playing in a competition like that under excellent coaches like Girvan Dempsey and Colly McEntee before that has helped bring a lot of us on.

"You could see the reaction from the players at the RDS when we were on the pitch and news of the injury-time final win over in Newcastle started to filter through. Even though the lads were all shattered after the physically gruelling win over Stade (Francais), they were made up for the boys over in Newcastle.

"That says a lot about how close-knit the squad all are. It's never about the individual and it's always about the team. We share in every success and disappointment as one unit and last Friday was a special night for everyone connected with the squad and academy."

Earlier this week, Conway was selected for the Emerging Ireland squad tour to Georgia – further evidence of his rise. A hat-trick of tries three weeks ago against the Ospreys showed the kind of devastating instincts that have been honed over the last number of years.

He attributes his improving form to two key factors – confidence and remaining injury free.

"If you had asked me four or five months ago about the importance of confidence in a players' game, I would have given you a very different answer," the 21-year-old revealed.

 

INJURIES

"There have been times when injuries get you down because you're not progressing at the rate you want to and I've had to learn to be patient and bide my time.

"I owe an awful lot to our coaches here because I feel as though they have really brought my game on with their faith. I can't speak highly enough about Joe (Schmidt) because it would have been very easy for him to discard a player who he knew wouldn't be part of Leinster's plans next season.

"It says a lot about him and that faith in me has given me confidence. I've played more games this year than ever (22 to date) and I've played the full 80 minutes in just under half of those too, which has been great for my development.

"I went out for lunch with Bossy (Isaac Boss) the other week and we got around to talking about moving clubs, because he has done that a couple of times. And he did say that it is a hard time because you're leaving your team-mates and in a lot of cases your best friends, inside and out of the game. But that's sport.

"If I'm honest I didn't see myself playing as much as I have and I really want to finish on a high. There's a lot of motivation for all of us who are leaving to end on a real high and thank everyone who has helped us along the way. We get great support from all of the medical and support staff as well as the supporters."

That the last number of PRO12 finals haven't gone the province's way is a frustration, especially coming off big European successes, and Conway believes the attitude of the players in the aftermath of the Challenge Cup final last weekend and earlier this week indicates they are driven to buck that trend.

"The lads are conscious about what has happened over the last few league finals. It's inevitable at this time of year that there are going to be bumps and bruises after a long campaign. Other teams have an extra week to prepare – which is obviously a huge advantage – and they're singularly focused on us, whereas we've been lucky enough to be in European finals.

"Ourselves and Ulster would know each other pretty well at this stage though. They've been the standout team in the league this season. I know a few of the lads like Craig Gilroy and Jacko (Paddy Jackson) from the various Age Grades and they are two examples of a really strong core of local talent coming through.

"They have made a lot of headway over the last few years, not just with Ulster, but getting a bit of opportunity at national level as well and that's a real motivation for the rest of us who are trying to break through.

"Ruan Pienaar is an unbelievable player for them week in, week out and they have a lot of international class in the likes of John Afoa, Johann Muller and Nick Williams, who is the PRO12's player of the year. It will be a tough test and one of the biggest we've faced this season, but that's as it should be in a final."

So as the plans grind down the intensity ramps up once more.

And it's one more time for Conway and the team to shine.


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