Tuesday 21 November 2017

Give me cold, hard silverware over individual awards any day

Ian Keatley
Ian Keatley

Billy Holland

With all this sunshine, it has been a dream to train this week. We all know we've got the best job in the world, but there are times when the wind and rain is battering you in the depths of winter, you might question what you are doing.

Even a fortnight ago, we were hammered with hailstones at training in UL. It was a horrific day, the Monday before the Treviso game and it didn't help me in my battle with tonsillitis.

In the end up I missed the game, and I'm convinced it was that shower that caused it. A jersey and a pair of shorts is no protection from that weather.

This is what it must be like to live down in the south of France. You could get used to it. If the sun shone in Ireland the whole time, no-one would ever leave.

With sunglasses and farmers' tans all around the place, the mood was further boosted by our win over Connacht last week - it was a great finish to the 22-game Guinness Pro12 season.

We made a conscious effort to move the ball around a little bit more than we have done recently, and playing Connacht, a team who also like to move it around a bit, it was always going to be quite a high-scoring game.

Important

Finishing top of the table is nice, but it doesn't count for anything really. Where you finish up at the end of May is the important thing. You could come fourth in the league, but if you come out with the trophy, that's all anyone will remember. 

Last weekend a lot of guys who may not be considered regular first-team players had great games. That's all going to add to the coaches' headache for team selection for next week's semi-final.

It was a good day for us in the pack with a few tries racked up, but again, we conceded a try from a maul, which isn't good.

We conceded one against Ulster a few weeks previous, so we have to do a bit of work on that side of our game.

Yes, we were a good bit ahead when Connacht got that score, but it is not an excuse at any time. It happened after ten minutes against Ulster and it wasn't any better. It shouldn't happen and we will be trying to rectify that in the coming days.

Right across the 23, there was good performances. Ian Keatley got man of the match, something he is making a habit of against Connacht. Fair play to him, though, he hasn't had too many starts recently between injury and Tyler Bleyendaal's form, but he was fantastic last weekend.

He now has 150 caps for Munster and there is only three of us in the squad with that: myself, Donnacha Ryan and now Ian. It's a fantastic achievement and to top it off with man of the match made it even sweeter for him.

After the game we had one or two drinks together as a squad at Thomond Park, but it was nothing major. That hour in each other's company was nice, but we headed off in our separate ways then. Hopefully we have something to celebrate in a fortnight's time.

As well as the run-in to the season, this time of year has plenty of awards nights, and we picked up a few in the last few days.

I read what Rassie said about getting coach of the year, that he was collecting it on behalf of all the other coaches - being named in the Pro12 team of the year is the same thing for me.

It's a lovely honour and a great gesture, but I'd take not being in it and getting a medal instead any time. It's a nice little feather in my cap, but give me cold, hard silverware over that any day.

After a couple of days off we were back at it on Wednesday and all focus turned to Ospreys - it's going to be a real battle.

They were 17-3 up on us after 20 minutes in the Liberty Stadium only a couple of months ago, and we somehow managed to claw our way back into it. They also had a disallowed try which would have put them out of sight.

With Rhys Webb and Biggar at half-back, they are a very dangerous side.

There is great history between the two sides, so it is going to be another big test of where we're at as a squad. Ospreys will have no fear of playing us in Thomond Park, but hopefully it will be another special occasion. 

There have been plenty of sell-outs there this season, and on those days it is a phenomenal experience. It is a really, really special place and hopefully we can match it with a performance.

It's great for the supporters that we have the home semi, but then again we have won more games away than at home this season.

Still, I'm sure the supporters are happy enough that they don't have to get on a plane. They are always willing to put in the miles, but it will be a bit easier on the pockets of our loyal supporters, which is great.

While we have a Pro12 semi-final to look forward to, the Ireland squad is also due to be named next week. I really hope to go on tour and I'd love to add to my single cap, but I have a few important weeks ahead of me with a semi-final, hopefully another match after that, and then my wedding day. 

I'm getting married on June 3 and the Ireland tour departs on June 5. We have a honeymoon booked for June 6, but if I get selected we are going to postpone the honeymoon.

I'm lucky to have a very understanding fiancée, who is willing to do that. It's a tough position to be in for her, work-wise and everything, but she has her fingers crossed that I get picked too.

Needless to say, there's plenty to come over the next couple of weeks to keep me busy.

Irish Independent

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