It's been three weeks since my last diary entry and a lot has happened in the meantime. Thankfully the crazy pre-season training has stopped and normality has entered my life again. So for now, no more mentions of altitude tents I promise. It has now been a game every weekend for the last four weeks. Two pre-season games against Northampton and Ulster and then the two games in the Guinness PRO12 against Glasgow and Scarlets. With games every weekend, comes structure and I enjoy structure.
Unfortunately we didn't get off to the greatest start with our performance against Glasgow but it helped us address a number of areas in our game that we needed to improve on. Until you play that first competitive game though it is hard to really know where you are at. After the Glasgow game we certainly knew what we needed to focus on.
That being said we nearly stole it and came away with a valuable point. Those points can be crucial come the end of the season especially in a first ever full season where the top six PRO12 positions are crucial for Champions Cup qualification.
It also proved that pre-season fitness is not the same as match fitness and it's very hard to prepare yourself for the first few competitive games.
Match fitness is difficult to replicate and it takes a few weeks to get up to match speed as well as decision-making under pressure and the body needs to learn to take the hits again. It's funny you go pretty soft in pre-season!
So by the time we took to the field against the Scarlets on Saturday we had a far better appreciation for where we were physically and mentally and what we needed to do.
For the new PRO12 season, there are new elements like a new sponsor but also a new broadcast partner in SKY Sports. Their arrival has put an additional focus on us as a team. There is a very visible camera in the dressing room at all times. There are interviews with our coaching team during the game and we saw it in the Glasgow game where one of the Glasgow subs was interviewed when he came off. All new elements to the coverage of our games but elements that really add value to the viewing experience at home. Ultimately we want people to enjoy what they see and this should help in that regard.
There is one other element that makes a huge difference for me personally is the 2.40pm kick off. It was great to have an early kick off on Saturday. It reminded me of my days in England with Leicester where every week you would be playing at 2:30pm on Saturday. It's my favourite time for a game because you don't spend your day killing time waiting for the game later that evening.
Usually I get nervous before a game so I'm pretty poor company so the less time I have doing that the better. There was a fantastic atmosphere in the RDS and it was a beautiful day for the game and thankfully we played better and managed to score a few tries.
There was also the small matter of a few initiations. It was nice to hear a few new caps sing a few songs for the group after the game. Mick McGrath, Steve Crosbie and Bryan Byrne all did very well, with Steve definitely taking top prize. If he does ever give up the day job, he has a pretty good back up plan.
Now that the season has kicked in this also means I'm back to college and study has to begin. This is a lot harder than rugby for me. I've a thesis to do by January and it's proving pretty tricky to get the thing started. Thankfully I have Rob (Kearney) and Isaac (Boss) doing the same course so it's great to be able to bounce ideas off the lads and have a few coffees before library sessions in the evening. So I definitely feel the pain of the school kids heading back the last few weeks, the homework and the last of the summer sunshine still hanging around of an evening. But needs must. January will fly in.
This week the focus has obviously been on Connacht. The week has been positive and training has been really sharp and due to the shorter turnaround with the Friday game, the emphasis has been on freshening up as much as getting all our detail right. It's pretty tough coming in on Monday morning after a loss so it was nice to come in on Monday and have a lot more positivity around the place.
Connacht are flying at the moment with two wins from two and it's going to be a massive challenge for us tonight. It's a little strange playing them this early in the season but it will be no different once we cross the white line.
They've been playing well and showed a lot of character to get the victory last week in Edinburgh. They're solid all over the park, with a strong back-row, good set-piece and dangerous backs. All of this combined with being well coached will really test us.
You only have to look at last year and we were behind at half-time at home and away, and while we did well to claw our way back into the game, we learned from the Glasgow game first day out that giving teams a head start just can't be done.
Hopefully we can do a job, which will put me in good form for the weekend ahead watching St Mary's v Terenure in the local derby. It's great to have both clubs doing well again and it's always a great day out when they play.