Ice-cold 'Killer' keen to secure his status as the top prop
The Big Interview: Dave Kilcoyne
On the back of three Irish Test appearances and another rigorous pre-season training camp, Munster loosehead prop Dave Kilcoyne is delighted to finally have the prospect of a new PRO14 campaign up and running.
Munster have been boosted by some quality signings over the summer months, and although their coveted director of rugby Rassie Erasmus will part ways sooner rather than later, there is still plenty to look forward to in the province before he goes.
"It's coming into a real exciting part of the season. It has been a really tough but enjoyable pre-season as usual. Munster have always based themselves on being a hard-working team and the majority of the work goes in in the pre-season," said Kilcoyne.
"All of the credit is due to the S&C staff. They did an excellent job with us once again and we are in prime condition starting the season. There is going to be competition for every place across the entire team.
"In my position, Liam O'Connor has been showing real promise and Brian Scott has also put up his hand. There's plenty of talent coming through and of course you have James Cronin there as well.
"At the start of last season I felt great and I feel great coming into this season again. I feel as fresh as I did when I was 21, so there is nothing new for me. But there is a huge buzz around the place.
"There have been some great signings. Rassie and Garrett Fitzgerald picked out the signings, they would have found that these players are a great fit for Munster not just on the pitch but also off of it.
"Chris Farrell is really going to be one to watch. It's great to have JJ Hanrahan back, and Gerbrandt Grobler is a real quality second row.
"There are others that will get their chance down the road. I would never judge a player in training, you have to throw them in the deep end and see how they perform but they have looked very good so far."
Munster kick off their campaign at home against Treviso at Irish Independent Park this evening, and the following week they welcome former Super Rugby franchise the Cheetahs to Limerick.
The influx of two South African teams has added a different dynamic to the PRO14, and Kilcoyne (28) is excited about what lies ahead.
"There is not too many countries in the world where rugby union is the number one sport and I know it is in South Africa. That will bring a huge fanbase to the competition," said Kilcoyne.
"You looked at the Super Rugby this year and you see the quality played over there. It will be a great test. They will be used to a fast-paced, off-loading game. You will have adjust to that and tweak little things in your defence. But it will be very exciting."
But where one batch of South African talent enters, some former Springbok greats will head in the opposite direction at some stage during the course of the season.
Erasmus could leave to take charge of South Africa before December, along with the esteemed defence coach Jacques Nienaber, but his Ireland international loosehead is just thankful for what has gone before.
"It was a shock when we heard that he was leaving, but a massive congratulations is in order there," said Kilcoyne.
"He got a chance to go back and coach his home nation. He captained them and now he gets the chance to coach them and that would have been his dream to do. To do it so early in his career shows the quality of characters himself and Jacques are."
For Kilcoyne, his own stock continues to rise, on the provincial and national stages.
He finished his masters two years ago and the subsequent 10,000-word thesis is well on its way towards completion.
Although he didn't start during the summer games against the USA and Japan, he was still used three times as a replacement and he has 20 Irish caps going forward.
There's a constant rivalry with Cronin to see who wears the Munster No 1 jersey on a week-by-week basis and they have to compete with the three other provinces before they can think about getting into Joe Schmidt's plans.
Ex-Grenoble prop Denis Coulson is the latest to enter the race, after he hooked up with Connacht this week, but 'Killer' loves to battle for his spot and he will aim for further international honours in the months and years to come.
"It is a big year for Munster rugby. We were bitterly disappointed to lose the PRO12 final at the end of last season, so all of our focus will be on getting back there and putting things right," said Kilcoyne.
"Internationally, the more competition the better, it makes you a better player. I played three Tests but I felt I deserved a start during the summer. Saying all that, when your job is off the bench you need to make an impact to help the team and I thought I did that when called upon.
"When you see Tyler Bleyendaal being called up to camp now it just shows the strength and depth in Irish rugby at the moment, which is incredible.
"In Munster you are trying to get three excellent players in each position. With Joe Schmidt and the guys up there it is a great position for them to be in.
"Munster, Ulster, Connacht and Leinster are four very strong teams and when you bring them into that environment it's really exciting for November and the Six Nations."