The Insider: I'm late to the party, but I'm ready to go
After our break following the Lions tour, we can't wait to get wait to get the season up and running
My first diary for the Leinster supplement and I've got big boots to fill. I take over this column from big Mikey Ross. A legend of Leinster and of Ireland and a man that I have a huge amount of time for. It seems fitting in some ways because Rossy has had such a massive influence on my career. A man whose backside is referred to as the eighth wonder of the world by some in the dressing room but for me, a man who put his arm around me from day one and brought me through the ups and downs in my development journey.
As we all know, he retired from professional rugby last year but what a legacy he leaves behind. Over 60 caps with Ireland, over 150 caps for Leinster as well as a brief sojourn across the water with Harlequins. Good times for Leinster and Ireland coincided with Rossy being a mainstay of both scrums and his medal collection bears testament to that fact. Two Six Nations, two Heineken Cups, a Challenge Cup and two PRO12 titles.
But he hasn't gone away and he is still out there lacing up the boots and terrorising scrums with Malahide. Maybe he has his sights on a few more medals to add to the cabinet and why not? As a player, both on and off the field, I learned a huge amount from him. How you prepare for games yes, but also how you prepare others and how to be selfless to the betterment of the team.
A great example is towards the end of last season, when he knew he was finishing up. He could have put the feet up. But not Rossy. Instead he loved dismantling the starting pack at scrum sessions, bringing out tricks and angles from his Harlequins days. Believe me, this led to plenty of head-scratching and problem-solving from the front-row group. A great player and an even greater man. I wish him and his family all the best in his retirement from the professional game and of course in his new work with Wizuda.
It's been a whirlwind summer since I last pulled on a Leinster jersey. To get selected for the British & Irish Lions and finding out in the company of my fellow Leinster players was very special but nothing compared to the trip itself. The memories of my first Lions cap and the Test games will stay with me for a long time.
Getting the opportunity to represent the Lions was one of the biggest honours of my career. As with all games at Test level, there is a lot of ceremony pre-game and that gives you a small window to reflect before you need to focus on the game and the job at hand. For me that's to family back home in Wexford, to the coaches in New Ross and the school days in Good Counsel. The people that have helped make you the person and the player you are. It couldn't be done without them and they were very much in my thoughts.
It was an incredibly challenging experience on the pitch and off it too it had its own unique challenges with regards to the amount of travel and games we played. That being said, I fully enjoyed the experience and I hope one day to experience it again. I feel I have massively grown as a person and as a player from the experience of playing alongside some of the best players in the world and being coached by some of the best coaches.
Before you know it though you are back home and facing into pre-season. It hasn't been all plain sailing for me this year as I injured my thumb in the PRO12 semi-final meaning surgery was required post Lions tour. This meant plenty of hospital visits and a protective guard on at all times for four weeks. So it left my holidays a little bit scattered between locations and it was hard to fully relax.
The five Lions guys came into back into pre-season the week of the Gloucester game so we were all well behind the eight ball. The bare bones of our week consisted of four gym sessions, two fitness and two skill sessions, the dreaded Watt bikes showed their face a few times to our delight too. We may have been late to the party, but have no fear we have been worked very hard and are ready tackle the new season ahead starting with Edinburgh tonight in the RDS.