AIL stage keeping prop prospect in the frame for senior call
Former Gaelic footballer biding his time with Dolphin as he waits for chance to prove mettle
The Munster looseheads are really on form at the moment. James Cronin's return from the Ireland set-up has added even more competition. He gone in on the try-scoring act last weekend, but only after Dave Kilcoyne made it four tries in three games.
Loosehead is becoming the most prolific position in the Munster team, and it bodes well for Anthony Foley and the fans to see two players on the top of their game vying for one position.
Meanwhile on the opposite side of the front-row, John Ryan has added to his growing reputation with some powerful displays at tighthead. He continues to grow and grow into the position. He had Mario Sagario for company, and now the return of Stephen Archer will give Munster even more strength in depth going into the Pro12 run-in.
But with Cronin and Archer added to the mix, youngster Peter McCabe has seen his chances of first-time rugby dwindle before his eyes. The 24-year-old has transitioned between his more familiar No 1 jersey and No 3 this term, but now he seems as far as ever from that call-up.
He did get on two benches this term, but in the win away to Treviso and the home defeat against Ospreys the Corkonian was an unused replacement. But he is primed for any opportunity he might get, because of the Ulster Bank League.
Without the AIL, McCabe would have no point of reference to improve his game, and even though he has picked up two serious injuries in recent seasons, his performances for Dolphin in the Ulster Bank League have kept him on the radar of the Munster coaching staff.
"First off I was going to UCC and I was enjoying the college life a bit," he concedes. "I wasn't in an academy system or anything at the time. I ended up getting a few games with the seniors and then I put the fun college life in the background. I drove on with it from there.
"This is my second season with Dolphin now. And I haven't played too many games with them yet because I did my knee at the start of last season. I only got the second part of that in. And then the same this year, at the start I hurt my pec muscle and that put me out again for half the season. I'm only just back now.
"It was a bad one, in training, it was the final scrum. It got caught at a bad angle and hyper-extended. I had to get surgery to get that fixed. That was unfortunate because it was just after pre-season and all of the training had been done.
"The AIL is very important. People forget that you need games if you're not in the senior frame. Games are the only way you are going to get better and the Ulster Bank League is super really.
"It's often guys who are just not good enough to be in the system, or they could have slipped out due to commitments. A lot of the time too you could be facing academy lads, so it's a really good test every time."
McCabe grew up in Dromtarriffe near the Kanturk club in Cork. He began his rugby there and his two brothers Dan and Luke still play for them.
But before rugby ever came into his mindset Peter was an accomplished Gaelic football player. He was on the fringe of the Cork minor side in 2010, and he just missed the final squad after playing a number of challenge matches - Cork went on to lose the All-Ireland final.
But the former CBC student was just about to become rugby mad, and his switches between centre and flanker ended up with him finding a home at loose-head.
"I used to play flanker and centre, and I would have been in those positions from U-14 up. I was always playing Gaelic football so I never fully committed to the rugby until later in school. I eventually went for prop and stayed at it, I loved it," he explains.
"I played football for Dromtarriffe, a junior club. Football was my main passion at the time. But that had to go on the back burner when I was playing my rugby. I played a lot of trial matches for the minors but I just didn't make the final cut for championship that year. And the fact I wasn't involved focused my mind back into the rugby and helped me commit to that more.
"In my Senior Cup year we lost the semi-final to Sean McCarthy's Rockwell by a point. We were camped on their line towards the end but couldn't get across it. They went on to win the final that year."
McCabe went on to study Arts in UCC before deferring the final year to focus on his game, and he is currently studying a sports psychology course in the Cork College of Commerce.
At the same time he is studying new ways to improve his game and finally crack the Munster starting 15.
"I have been involved in two squads in the last month. I didn't get on in either so that was disappointing," he says. "But hopefully I might get some game-time if not this season, then next season.
"It's good to see the coaches are putting me in the matchday 23 and hopefully that means they have faith in me, and they know I can do the job for the team when I get my chance.
"There's a lot of props at the moment so it's tough. The only way I might get a chance at this stage is through injury to someone else, and that's the unfortunate reality."