Kev did the right thing - but it's still hard to take
Retirement shows concussion protocols are working but we need to get more people informed
It's been an unusual start to the season so far with the stop-start format in place because of the Rugby World Cup. With all the focus on the World Cup over in England, the Guinness Pro12 fixtures are somewhat under the radar.
After our first two fixtures against Edinburgh and Cardiff we have had a two-week break from games. The home win against Cardiff in the RDS was great for the group and it was nice to see some lads pick up their first caps. We had a rest week straight after it so it was important for the group to head away with that performance and the win under the belts. As I said, those two games also marked significant milestones for some of the lads.
Garry Ringrose, Ross Byrne, Royce Burke-Flynn and Tadhg Beirne were capped in the first few weeks and it's refreshing seeing young home-grown talent coming through. If you then throw into the mix Cathal Marsh and Ross Molony making first starts in the RDS, it underlines the progress that these lads have been making. I've been really impressed by them in and around training and I'm sure it's just the start of long careers in the club for them.
Looking back on the last two weeks, in a way the break after Cardiff came at a bad time as we had good momentum after that performance and winning well in our first home game.
However, the flip side is that it gave guys a chance to get a few days off to recover and come back refreshed with another important block of Pro12 games just around the corner. Another aspect of the Rugby World Cup being on is the block that we face into next. Dragons tomorrow then a weekend off, then 16 weeks of games in a row. As a player, all you want is to play but that will test everyone!
Last week's training was really productive and we got more weights done in the gym and contact training on the pitch than we normally would the week of a game. It was important for us to tick a few boxes in the contact area where we let ourselves down at times against Cardiff the last day and I think we addressed those.
Last week was a mixed one for the team however. As positive as our work on the pitch was, it was tempered by the shocking news about Kev McLaughlin's retirement.
The whole situation was surreal. We were due to have a chat with the medical team anyway about concussion and the protocols and awareness which had been in our schedule since pre-season but when Kev got up at the end to talk nobody could have foreseen what was to come.
Kev spoke to the squad and announced that he had been advised by a neurologist to retire with immediate effect having been referred after the Edinburgh game. It is a massive blow for the club as Kev has been such a huge part of the club's success and culture over the past eight seasons.
Personally, it was gutting because he is one of my closest friends in the changing room and to think he won't be around to have banter with on a daily basis and to line out together in blue is a sad day. However, if any of the young crop coming up were offered the success and quality of Kev's career to date they would bite your hand off so on that front he can look back and be incredibly proud of himself.C
A few seasons ago Eoin O'Malley was also forced into retirement due to injury and it brings to light the level of collisions and intensity that has grown into the game.
It's a fantastic career to have and I enjoy every minute of it but it's hard to see how much further the game can go on a physical level.
Kev's advice to retire due to concussion put into perspective how important the protocols for concussion in the game are.
As a player, all you want is to play and at times after a knock you feel fine, and don't feel you need the doc. There are no bruises, no torn muscle, no blood but the medics still want to test you and put you through the protocols.
You listen to their every word even if you do think you're 100pc. And that is what is crucial. Even if you feel fine, the docs may have seen symptoms or signs.
The medics and Kev followed the protocols and he had his issue identified as a result. There is no question about it, it's crucial for players to follow the guidelines in place and that's the same at all levels. If you're not sure what the guidelines are just check out the IRFU or Leinster websites. It only takes a few minutes but knowing the protocols could make a huge difference. It did for Kev.
The World Cup has been great TV to have after training over the past few weeks. It's amazing how much smaller the margins are now between the lower- and upper-tier teams and it's great for world rugby. Seeing Japan beat South Africa on the first weekend was incredible and will go down as one of the all time great upsets at a World Cup. Everyone felt a small attachment to the Japanese after that one and its amazing how sport gets everyone behind the underdog, particularly Irish people!
I heard Life Style Sports sold out of Japanese jerseys!
Ireland have been going very strongly so far, picking up two bonus points from two games. The Canadian performance from Ireland was definitely a more polished one than Romania but ten points and top of the group is where they want to be going into the final two group matches.
Realistically, Ireland's intentions of progressing to a semi-final or final depend on the result against France. I think it's a much more difficult game than people are suggesting and as average as the French have been so far they have a habit of pulling together at the right times at World Cups!
But first the Italians ... and for us the Dragons. They beat us twice last season and haven't been unduly affected by World Cup call-ups so will be targeting these games. Our week has gone really well and the group are chomping at the bit to get another win under our belts. Get there in blue to cheer us on!