'In a new club you feel you have to prove yourself to the lads'
Former Leinster flier regrets trying to play through injury as he bids to ignite Reds career
A good few eyebrows were raised when Andrew Conway signed for Munster last summer. We all wondered how such a talented try-scorer could be allowed to make the move from Leinster to their arch-rivals down the M7.
But in truth it was probably only last weekend in the Sportsground that Rob Penney saw the 22-year-old winger hit his peak in a Munster shirt.
Supporting his new aerodynamic Mohawk haircut, Conway certainly stood out, and he had the game to back it up – his early try off a scrum got Munster up and running.
"It was a while since I scored a try of a first-phase move like that, so that was a great feeling," he says.
"Duncan (Williams) runs that move and variations of it really well, so to see it come off was pleasing. You'd always practise things like that in training, so to finally be able to spot a hole and take the opportunity like that was excellent.
"It was a game I was really looking forward to. I hadn't played for Munster for the previous six or seven weeks. The last time I played was over in Ospreys, so to get out there was great.
"I feel very fit at the moment, my body feels very fit, free of niggles and knocks. It was a nice night in Galway, we played pretty well, but we still have a couple of things to work on ahead of the weekend," adds Conway, who now has three tries from eight Munster starts.
All of those outings have come in the Pro12, though. He admits that pushing on into the Heineken Cup from winning a Challenge Cup medal with Leinster last year was a big target, but a collection of small injuries have hampered his progress.
"I don't know what impact my performance last weekend had. I'm sure it hasn't done me any harm but I still haven't played in the Heineken Cup for Munster," he says.
"It has been really frustrating, but a lot of it was my own doing too. In one of the pre-season games I took a knock and tried to play through it.
"I was so eager to play in the next warm-up game that I trained through it, then I got a bad bang on my leg and ended up with some bone bruising on my femur. I ended up with a few weeks off, for rest and recuperation.
"It was just being in a new club, you feel like you have to prove yourself to the lads. It's all well and good training with them but it's only by playing with them that you gain their respect.
"I tried to play through an injury and it was the wrong thing to do. But you live and you learn."
As well as that knock against Gloucester, Conway has had to cope with a rib injury suffered against Glasgow in October and a knee injury picked up against Cardiff in December. He had just worked his way back and picked up another seemingly innocuous knock. But the cumulative effect was that it felt worse than one major injury to the new kid on the block.
"In one way it feels worse than a serious one. If it's a bad injury you know what you have got to deal with," he explains. "You can make your plans with your physio, the strength and conditioning guys and the coaches. You can hit your little goals along the way and you have a definite target to make.
"With niggly injuries there was nothing I could do, it was all about how my body reacted. Then, when the coaches or physios asked me how sore it was in marks out of 10, it might have been a three of a four, but I'd say it was a one.
"I was too eager to get back and that's something I take forward. You can train through it but when you take it to a game situation it is going to be tough. You'll be exposed if you're not 100pc."
Because he had failed to work his way to the forefront of Penney's thoughts, Conway found himself returning to Dublin for a B&I Cup quarter-final against his former team-mates while the first-teamers were preparing to take on Toulouse in the Heineken Cup.
For someone who had made the move south in a bid to kick on with his career, it might have been seen as a step backwards, but Conway refutes that claim. On the tail of the season he's had, he is happy to be fighting his way back up the ladder now.
"Moving to Munster, I wanted to kick on. It was difficult missing out alright. Obviously any big games you want to be involved. With the few injuries, I was always 75-80pc fit – and that's not good enough.
"But right now, I wouldn't be overly concerned about not being involved in the Heineken Cup. For me it was more to do with trying to get involved in any game for Munster. That is my main focus.
"I played B&I Cup against Leinster 'A', in that quarter-final where we got a bit of a beating – that wasn't enjoyable at all. It wasn't nice. It was always going to be tough but in fairness to Leinster they played really well and they were a lot better on the day. You can't complain when that happens.
"I was playing against lads that I trained with for years, but losing by 30 or 40 points, it doesn't matter who you lose to, it's still tough to take. But I've left my time at Leinster behind me now."
It seems Conway has settled in Limerick alright. Which of his housemates, Johne Murphy or Ian Keatley, were responsible for his haircut is something he is keeping to himself.
And after the return he made last weekend, he might just hold on to it for another while.
"My barber is keen for me to keep it, but it was just a bit of craic. I got a bit of abuse alright, but you always expect some stick from the boys," he says.
"They are a good bunch of guys here, but there is always something to abuse you about, so it may as well be just about a stupid haircut."