Wednesday 13 December 2017

It's a huge honour to be capped but the real battle begins here

Player Diary: Billy Holland

Billy Holland on the charge on his Ireland debut against Canada. Photo: Sportsfile
Billy Holland on the charge on his Ireland debut against Canada. Photo: Sportsfile

You dream of getting that call, hearing that they want you to represent your country on the rugby pitch, but when the news finally reached me I think I was the last person to find out.

I do some work with a charity called 'Engineers without Borders' and I was taking part in a talk in CIT that Wednesday. I finished up at about 5.30pm, looked at my phone and it was full of missed calls and messages. Wondering what the hell was going on, I also saw an email from Ireland team manager Mick Kearney, informing me of the fantastic news that I had been called up to the 34-man squad for the Autumn Internationals.

Luckily, the only person that didn't know the news was my mother, so after ringing my delighted fiancée Lanlih, and my father, I really enjoyed calling in home to tell my mother in person. She was over the moon!

While it was great to be called into the squad, we still had the Ulster game to prepare for that Friday. Taking a spin up to Portlaoise the next morning to meet the boys for a walk through en route soon focused the mind, although there was plenty of slagging rather than congratulating me going on at the same time.


Going 14-0 down after 30 minutes in Belfast soon brought me back to earth with a bang, but the manner in which we recovered and pulled off the win gave all of us Munster fellas a huge lift as we headed to Carton House for camp.

We were told they would be picking a 27-man squad to go to Chicago, but I was sure I'd miss out on that cut, although we were all told to pack our bags in preparation for the trip. So when I got the nod it left me with a real helter-skelter half-hour to get myself sorted. But by 4pm on Monday afternoon I was sitting in business class for the first time in my life.

We get looked after really, really well in Munster, but being in Ireland camp is another level altogether. In Chicago, we stayed in Trump Tower Hotel: he may not be a good politician but he certainly knows how to run a fancy hotel. I was rooming with John Ryan for the seven nights and other than his snoring, it was good to be with another Munster man.

One thing that struck me was how good we have it at home when we toured the Chicago Bulls training centre. It was built in 2014 for one of the world's biggest sports brands, but what we have in UL is every bit as good - if not better. Yes, they may have a few more luxurious leather armchairs around the place, but the important things like the gym and analysis facilities are superior at home.

I spent the first two or three days on the laptop learning all the calls and plays so I didn't get to spend too much time exploring the city. I think Zebo and Murray made up for me though by having coffee on every rooftop bar they could find!

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series in baseball for the first time in 108 years the week we were there so the buzz around the city was something else. Five million people lined the streets for their homecoming parade; that's more than the population of Ireland in a three-mile radius! Ireland's historic win against the All Blacks after 111 years of trying was simply unforgettable. It certainly was a week for the underdog in Chicago!

Winning my first cap for Ireland against Canada was a dream come true. I was busy in the build-up as I was calling lineouts so there was plenty of responsibility on my plate. I was so focused on the technical aspects of my game, that it wasn't until I was standing in the Aviva singing 'Amhrán na bhFiann', that it suddenly dawned on me how special an occasion this was.

Going out with my family and family-in-law for lunch the next day with my Ireland cap was a real personal highlight as, to be honest, I was happier for my family than myself, as they have helped me get to where I am. Professional rugby is a ruthless business as it's always next-job-focused but it was nice to celebrate and let the hair down for 24 hours.

It was a strange feeling being away from Munster when we had games to play - I would have targeted these few weeks as my time to shine in years gone by - but it was fantastic to see how they got on in the two games.

We were in Chicago when they ended up beating the Ospreys 33-0 and that result really sent a few shockwaves through the camp. We tried our best to find somewhere to watch it, but once we picked up the reports afterwards we were bursting with pride.

Then for the Maori game, myself and a few of the lads found a quiet pub across from the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, which was a great place to watch a huge Munster victory! It was an incredible performance from them all, in particular from a few academy lads and guys who had seen so little game time this season. It showed the massive strength in depth in our squad.

Axel always had a great line about his best team of one-cap wonders, so my aim now is to avoid being in that selection! One of the reasons I got capped was due to the good form of Munster this season. The better we play the more guys that will get international recognition and if we can keep up our form I would expect to see some of our younger lads getting capped sooner rather than later.

With several lads coming back from injury, competition for places is going to be massive but that is great for the squad. We have a really tough eight-week block coming up with Glasgow, Leicester and Racing twice each and two interpro derby games. It's going to require a huge squad effort starting with Glasgow tonight.

Irish Independent

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