Wednesday 23 October 2019

'I've always believed I'm good enough' - Munster's Dave Kilcoyne

Kilcoyne says mother's faith in his ability saw him through dark times

David Kilcoyne will always be grateful to his mother for her support. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
David Kilcoyne will always be grateful to his mother for her support. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

He's 30, now, Dave Kilcoyne; a fixture in the Munster team and one of the few Ireland players who walked away from the Six Nations with his reputation enhanced.

A team man, he takes little solace from individual efforts in a struggling collective performance but he is in pole position to travel to the World Cup in Japan having jumped ahead of Jack McGrath in the queue.

It has taken patience to get here. Patience and an unshakeable belief in his own ability. For so long, he was number three in Joe Schmidt's pecking order and when he eventually dislodged McGrath in the autumn of 2017, he was struck down with injury on the eve of the Six Nations.

He missed out on the Grand Slam and then couldn't force his way back in for the tour to Australia. He booked a holiday Down Under and trained with the team while not officially part of the travelling party and redoubled his efforts to force his way back in.

Kilcoyne wore the No 17 shirt in four of Ireland's five Six Nations games this season. In Rome, he started his first Championship game seven years after his debut.

Some might have despaired at the prospect of sitting behind two Lions in the pecking order, but since he was a child Kilcoyne has been imbued with his mother Pauline's faith in his ability.

"There's one thing I've always had is that belief that I am good enough to play top level international rugby," he explains.

"Since a young age my mother used to say to me that I could achieve whatever I wanted to in this world - since I've been able to communicate with her.

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"I know that's a mad thing to think, but I've always had that inner belief and drive that I would get back to playing top international rugby, being involved in successful Irish teams and then I tried to be as consistent, as disciplined with my training.

"There are so many things I control; what I eat, how much I train, how much I sleep - there's three things that, if you take everything else away, I can control. I'm not in charge of selection, other aspects, but there are certain things I can control and I put a massive emphasis on them.

"Every Sunday night I write out exactly what weight sessions I'm going to get done during the week, I'm a massive believer that you can't over-train. I'd try and nearly train every day - whether it's a pool session or a horrendously hard weights session, something every day to make me better.

"Once I know I'm adding something to my arsenal that's making me better every day the rest takes care of itself.

"I hope that's evidenced in my performance, I want to consistently put in as good a performance as I can. I believe how you judge top players is by their ability to consistently play at a really high level.

"It was tough watching the lads win the Grand Slam, others may have gone away but I put my head down, worked harder."

Even during the days when he questioned his own fate, his mother's faith held.

"She's seen the dark days, like when I was injured before the last Six Nations and I'd worked so hard to get back," he recalls. "I wouldn't say she's very religious, but she has strong faith and she always says that 'you do the playing and I'll do the praying'.

"When I went home, she'd be like, 'This is nothing, you're going to get stronger'.

"So, when I got my first cap in the Six Nations against England she said: 'I told you'. It's almost like she's been pre-empting my career, she sees something in us.

"If you put so much into your kids at a young age it has a massive determination on what they look like later on. I've got two parents who instilled massive confidence and belief that anything is possible."

Pauline and Pat will be in Edinburgh today, along with various members of the tribe including Kilcoyne's brothers Pádraig and Alan. He is the only Limerick forward in today's match-day 23, a player whose connection with teams of old runs deep.

For all the movement in Irish rugby, he feels it's essential to retain that bond between local players and their province. He has links with the past and is trying to help with the future where he can.

"It's insane to think that on Saturday you're going out to play a quarter-final and all the lads you went to school with (will be there)," he says. "All of the lads you used to jump over the wall at Thomond Park with to go in and watch Heineken Cup games with... You're running around the pitch at the end trying to shake hands with Ronan O'Gara or Paul O'Connell and then you go on to play with Ronan O'Gara.

"I'd consider Paul a very good friend and his brother Justin - he has an excellent young fella there, Evan. Evan's the next Paul in the making, he's playing with Castletroy College and UL Bohs and they'd an unreal win in the U-15s Cup... I've only done a couple of sessions coaching him, the way he carries himself, the way he plays, he plays how Paulie would have played.

"You get new coaches in and when you see guys like Jean Kleyn come in and really add to the organisation... but you think back to the old Thomond Park, to winning the Heineken Cups in '06 and '08 as a fan and knowing what Munster, what Limerick is about. You know what the whole organisation is about and that's true to the lads who come in and really buy in.

"There's something special about it. Hopefully there's something special brewing that we can deliver this year. We've an incredibly tough game this Saturday."

He has been to four semi-finals and lost. Away from home against a difficult opponent, today's game is a chance to show they've learnt the lessons of the past.

"We've got to so many semi-finals now and it is finding out what that extra key is," he says. "I was watching the Richie McCaw documentary 'Chasing Great' recently. In 2007, they were nearly calling for his head as captain because they had lost the quarter-final. He went away and started working with sports psychologists and said that a lot of analysis... it just came down to a high pressure game against France and they lost the head.

"He came to the conclusion there was no more training, no more extra gym sessions... in those fine-margin games it was mentally the team who kept their composure better (who won) ... they rectified that and went on to win back-to-back World Cups. Is that a little bit like Munster? We've been to four semi-finals and trying to find that mental extra one per cent that gets us to a European final and hopefully beyond."


Scouting report


How they beat you

Richard Cockerill has built a formidable forward pack, full of ball-carrying ability and with a strong set-piece. Outside backs Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe have the capacity to hurt defences, while their half-backs bring a good kicking game to the party.

How you beat them

Match them up front, stay disciplined and win the collisions. If Munster can hold on to the ball and get go-forward, Conor Murray and Joey Carbery have the options outside them to do the damage.

Star man

Scotland openside Hamish Watson may not be the biggest man on the circuit, but that doesn’t stop him being one of the toughest ball carriers to stop. A threat on the deck and a strong carrier, he’s a throwback.

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