Kilcoyne: 'We want to make memories of our own '
Munster prop claims that new-look side won't rely on history to plot path ahead, writes Ruaidhri O'Connor
THERE's a subtle rebranding going on in Munster these days. Out with the old and in with the new. The new breed are not rejecting the tradition that went before – they all grew up wanting to be part of it – but they bristle at the notion that being underdogs is something to embrace ahead of their daunting trip to Marseille this Sunday.
Take Dave Kilcoyne, a young man who, like his injured captain Peter O'Mahony, attended both the 2006 and 2008 finals as a fan.
A neighbour of Paul O'Connell, a cousin of Marcus Horan; he grew up wanting to be among the legends, but now that he leads the red waves on big Heineken Cup days he is part of group striving for consistent performance rather than a season of peaks and troughs.
The miracle matches and legendary days helped build Thomond Park and the huge fanbase that Munster attract and behind the narrative were great teams who deserved their triumphs.
Most of those men have now retired and Tony McGahan and Rob Penney have reconstructed the team and filled it with young, hungry tyros who have yet to taste European success like the men who went before them.
And they want to do it their way.
"I don't look at it like that anymore, you know, underdogs. I look at our strength in depth," Kilcoyne explains of the new mindset.
"I suppose it will take people time to adjust from the Munster of old to the Munster of new, but I think there's still the experience of campaigners like Paul O'Connell etc and then the youth of players like Conor Murray.
"It is a great blend, an exciting and competitive environment and we're all thriving on it.
"I don't think it's a case of relying on being the Munster of old, the underdog. It's about embracing the Munster of new and buying into it."
They set the bar high earlier this month when tearing Toulouse to shreds with the loosehead prop leading the charge.
During the week of the game, O'Connell had spoken gravely of the challenge ahead and the fact that Munster had not been anywhere near good enough all season.
They then went out and produced a day to match anything the old teams have produced, but the logical professionals in the dressing-room would point to Toulouse's league position, the fact that they had slipped up at home to Connacht during their pool campaign and said they were there for the taking.
As the home team, they expected to win and set a standard that they now want to hit regularly.
Kilcoyne is being driven by more than just desire for silverware in the second half of this season, there is a personal motive behind his robust displays.
Saturday's game in Galway marked his 51st appearance in red, 47 of which have come over the last two seasons since Penney handed him responsibility and he grabbed it with both hands.
Declan Kidney liked what he saw and, by the time he walked off the pitch in Toronto last June, he had eight caps to his name and was beginning to think about dislodging Cian Healy's firm hold on the No 1 jersey.
Now, coming towards the end of this season, he remains on the same total.
In November, he was left out altogether and while he fought his way back into the extended squad for Ireland's successful Six Nations campaign, each Thursday he found himself packing his bags and heading back to Limerick.
"I had a bit of disappointment in the international set-up, but, look, it's about how you react to these situations," he says.
"You try and answer questions asked of you. That's what I've been trying to do as best I can with the performances that I've put in. Joe was very good, he rang me and explained to me certain things about my game that I've been trying to work on.
"I've been trying to work on them and hopefully if I keep putting in good performances with Munster then it will lead to good things in the green jersey."
While the season started slowly for him and James Cronin's emergence at Munster meant he had some work to do on his own patch, he wasn't expecting his international career to come to a sudden halt.
"It was a shock to be left out and I think the strength of the character is how you react," he says.
"You can lie down and take your beating or you can do your talking on the pitch and put in as many good performances on the pitch for your province and that's what I've been trying to do.
"The last half of the season has been pretty good so hopefully things keep going well."
That's obviously a big progression to be left out altogether in November to getting back into the squad for the Six Nations.
"Joe expressed how important he viewed the extended squad and the role we had in readying the starting team for those Six Nations games, so you're trying to put up your hand while also trying to learn the new calls, systems and trying to impress.
"It was a big step forward for me and I'm trying to get on that Argentina tour by putting in a good performance for the rest of the season."
In this game of kill or be killed, he holds the aces as the loosehead with Heineken Cup opportunities to impress.
On the day after the dismantling of Toulouse, Kilcoyne sat with his brothers and watched Leinster's European empire being torched by the current kings.
Last season, they went to France to face Clermont and, after weathering an initial storm in Montpellier, they kept themselves in it and could have won out in the end.
The province have been to France six times for semi-finals, losing four since the famous win over Toulouse in Bordeaux in 2000.
They can still turn on the magic at times, like the final moments in Perpignan when JJ Hanrahan scored his superb winning try and they will draw on the history a little this week as they prepare to take on Jonny Wilkinson and friends in Marseille.
"They're incredible memories, they're embedded in my memory bank forever along with most people in the province," Kilcoyne says.
"I suppose we're looking at it now and we want to make memories of our own and not rely on that.
"We lost to Clermont over there and it was a bit of an eye-opener to play in such a hostile environment, it was a new experience for me and one I learned and got a lot of experience from and hopefully that will tell in Marseille.
"If you don't believe you can beat these sides, then you won't. We certainly believe we can go to these places and win these games.
"Everyone buys into it, I think that's a good thing about Munster; everyone works together. I don't think there's a gap between the experienced players, the old stalwarts and the new young guns. Everyone's blending in together now and it's working quite well.
"It's a big family, everyone buys into it. Once you earn your stripes on the jersey, everyone has a common goal of winning and that's starting to tell."
Dave Kilcoyne was speaking at a RaboDirect Pro12 Masterclass for young Munster fans. Follow @RaboInsider for competition updates and exclusive rugby content.