Wednesday 13 December 2017

New signings add to buoyant mood after special European occasion

Ian Keatley shows his delight at scoring his first Champions Cup try against Racing 92 SPORTSFILE
Ian Keatley shows his delight at scoring his first Champions Cup try against Racing 92 SPORTSFILE

Jack O'Donoghue - Player Diary

It has been a long two months with games every weekend, but I think all of us are happy with what we've achieved in that time.

To go into this two-week break with a home quarter-final in the Champions Cup clinched and as the Pro12's second placed team is a massive achievement, and with 12 wins from out last 13 games the mood in the camp is buoyant.

While I didn't get on the pitch last weekend against Racing 92 at Thomond Park, it was one of those special European occasions that the venue has become famous for down through the years.

Right from the off when we pulled into the carpark out the back you could hear the Champions Cup music being tested over the Tannoy.

When we went out for a first glimpse at the pitch early on there was already a good crowd in offering their best wishes, and by the time warm-up came around the whole stadium was packed to the roof again.

We probably say it every week, but the roar that comes off the stands and terracing when we do our half-lap on the way back in is an unreal experience, and it's pretty easy to build yourself up for kick-off with that reception.

The game itself was just as we had expected: they were hurt after our win on their patch and as a result they came at us hard from the off.

Physicality

The physicality of their ball carriers looked to be huge, and I think it took us a few minutes to come to terms with that.

After we settled we were perhaps guilty of messing up a few good chances to score - in fairness they had some chances too - but eventually Simon Zebo's try just before half-time gave us some reward for a good second quarter.

But despite that score they proved hard opponents to shake off, and it wasn't until Ronan O'Mahony picked one up off his toes to score that we really settled into our game.

Late on it was great to see Ian Keatley cross for a try - I'm sure he felt he earned it after being on the pitch all of 30 seconds! But it was great work from Andrew Conway to create the chance.

Afterwards there was a real sense of satisfaction and 'job done' about the day. We did well at the set-piece, we were delighted with how the scrum went and we made it tough for them on their lineout ball too.

All said it was a good day at the office.

From a personal point of view I am using this week as a chance to rest up and get some quality recuperation time in ahead of what's sure to be a manic six or eight weeks ahead.

With 13 of the lads called up to the Ireland squad the pressure will be on the rest of us here in Munster to keep our performances up to the high standard we've set recently.

I was absolutely thrilled to see the Scannell brothers called up to the Ireland squad for the Six Nations, while Andy Conway has been in amazing form too and is fully deserving of the call.

Niall has been rock solid in the front-row all season and he has taken the chance that has been given to him.

Rory has struck up a brilliant relationship with Jaco Taute in the centre - and Frankie Saili last season - and Tyler Bleyendaal the other side of him, and it is easy to see why he has been called up too. His kicking game is always on the money and he has got us out of trouble on plenty of occasions.

While I'd love to be involved myself I know that the competition in my position is very strong around the country. There is a handful of seasoned pros in the back-row that are in good form, and I know after my experience in November that I'm not a million miles away from their standards either.

I see this next few weeks as a great chance to get some more game-time under my belt, and I'll be keen to do my utmost to help the team and also catch the eye of anyone that's watching.

First up we face a real tough trip to Edinburgh for the game that was postponed due to the rescheduling of the Racing game in Paris. This will be their first Pro12 game in their new home at Myreside and I'm sure they will be keen to put on a good show.

They have been tricky to beat in the last few seasons, but since Duncan Hodge took over they have become a really dangerous attacking side as well as a powerful, physical unit.

After such a positive week on the field we were all delighted to hear so much positive off-field news with all the new signings being announced.

I'm sure James Hart and Chris Farrell will slot right into the Munster family, while a familiar face in JJ Hanrahan will be welcomed back with open arms.

All the boys that signed new deals will be thrilled to have secured their futures - nobody likes that sort of thing hanging around.

And seeing the calibre of players that we have managed to attract and retain is a real good sign for the future. Next season promises to be a good one.

But there is so much to be fought for before any of that materialises.

When we started out this season we didn't want to set any specific goals of winning the league or doing well in Europe, but we are well on the way to achieving our aim of improving every week while playing some real competitive rugby along the way.

Starting with Edinburgh next weekend we want to take advantage of the game in hand and pick up crucial points that could move us back on top of the standings.

If we can continue our decent form until the international boys come back, who knows what we can achieve in the coming months?

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