Player Diary: Last few days of peace before madness begins
With college finals and plenty of rugby on horizon, Leinster back-row star Josh van der Flier is facing busy few months
People are still saying Happy New Year and, as it's my first diary of 2017, I am tempted to say the same... but as we're nearing the end of January I think best to leave off but I do hope that everyone had a good Christmas and New Year! What was it like for me?
I had Christmas week off for the first time in about four years which was odd! You get so used to Christmas when you are younger and the thoughts of being without it, or being out of the loop a bit, unsettles you! But very quickly the 'new' rugby Christmas becomes the norm so it was odd to be out of that again but it was nice.
I went for a bit of R&R in Connemara with the family which was a lovely break. Of course you can't switch off completely and for Stephen's Day it was about making sure I could take in the game.
It was hard watching on as the lads did battle against Munster. Actually it is always hard watching on when you're not playing but I suppose I was fortunate to be straight back in against Ulster and I had that in the back of my mind.
Looking back, it was a tough block of Guinness Pro12 games over Christmas. Three games in 11 days is not easy on the players or coaching team. Munster away, Ulster at home and Zebre at home (which I missed through illness) put a lot of pressures on us all so it was good to get some positive results. It was also good to sign off from the Pro12 on a positive note and to keep the pressure on the Ospreys and Munster above us.
A run of wins gives such good momentum and exactly what we needed coming into Europe. This was evident in the lead-up to the Montpellier game; the squad training was very intense with huge competitiveness, everyone wanting to pull on the jersey. The crucial Leinster 'A' game against Nottingham was also a major motivation for players in contention and meant for a great week of preparation.
As for the game itself, getting the bonus point against Montpellier was massive for the club and we can take a lot of confidence from it. Leading into it there was massive reward at stake. A quarter-final in Europe is something that a lot of us have not encountered before and you never know when these opportunities will come up again. There are no guarantees in sport.
The home crowd made an incredible difference in the RDS and despite the cold it was brilliant to see over 17,500 people rammed into the stadium which made the game so much more enjoyable.
Talk about last weekend and the target there, this weekend we have a chance to secure a home quarter-final in the Aviva Stadium which would be incredible and would make a massive difference having a majority Leinster crowd cheering us on. But to achieve that we have a tough challenge away to Castres who have only lost at home once all season. No easy task and we will have to be at our best.
With the big European games upon us and the Six Nations coming up, the competition for places is pretty fierce. Everyone seems to be putting up their hand for selection in training and in matches, the standard has been exceptional.
Aside from the rugby, college is still on the Christmas break so I'm enjoying a bit more time in the evenings to recover and relax. The sitting room in RC1, the house I live in with Tom Daly, Adam Byrne and Peter Dooley, has been improved with two new couches so relaxing is quite easy! Dooley had a groove in the previous couch so it's good to finally get an upgrade.
One of my other house-mates Emmet Nolan plays hurling for Offaly so I've also been busy pucking with him and just started supervising his fitness training. A nice change up from being coached every other day of the week. The hurling is also progressing. I'm hitting the ball every few attempts now rather than none at all!
College starts back up next week which will be the start of my final semester in my Sports and Exercise Management degree in UCD. So enjoying the last few days of peace before the final run-in.