Single base gives Reds the best of both worlds
One of the most important developments in Munster rugby in recent times was the announcement some months ago that a single training base was to be developed in Limerick.
It doesn't matter that the new centre will be in Limerick, Cork or wherever, but the most important development is that the province is going to have a single training base. And that can't happen soon enough.
I know the lads who are based in and around Limerick will be delighted that it is going to be in UL, while those in Cork would obviously have preferred if a site there was chosen.
I'm from Tipperary and it would never have bothered me where they picked. I had based myself in Cork as I was in UCC but it wouldn't have been a big deal for me to have moved to Limerick or somewhere else and based myself there.
It has always been a topic of conversation within the squad, sometimes slagging and sometimes serious. But I think everyone realised you couldn't continue splitting the squad and training at two venues.
It was even more difficult in the early days. Nowadays conference calls and video links are used but back then there was very little video analysis and the two groups trained separately.
Indeed, you could have a situation where you had the different groups doing different training programmes. You might have a fitness advisor in one centre who came from an athletics background and specialised in speed, while the other group had somebody who was an expert in strength. Over time that got ironed out and we all began working off the same programmes, but where we trained often depended on who the coach was or other circumstances.
I remember at one stage when Alan Gaffney was in charge and he lived in Limerick. The Cork-based boys would travel up on a Tuesday and stay overnight in the Kilmurray Lodge. We would then try and do as much as we could over those two days.
Often on the Wednesday, having stayed overnight, we might have two long field sessions, which might go on for an hour and a half or more each, and with meetings and everything else, everyone would be whacked. As a result, whoever was on driving duty that week would probably find himself driving back to Cork with three passengers sound asleep.
There was always an argument and a counter-argument put forward at the time, depending on who you spoke to. Some would say that being based in two centres did us no harm at all and, 'look, didn't we win two Heineken Cups'.
But, invariably, as soon as somebody said that, somebody else would remark 'but how many would we have won if we were all training together?'
But I think everyone agreed that change was required and that it just didn't make sense to have guys stuck in a car for three hours on a training day – and the state of the road between Limerick and Cork certainly didn't do anyone any favours.
Other teams you are competing with are together throughout the week, and in a sport where it's all about tight margins you want to give yourself every possible advantage, so moving to a single centre is bound to have a big long-term positive impact.
I think the argument over where the training base should be was often mixed up with where games are played, and that shouldn't be a factor. This Limerick v Cork thing often annoyed me. The other counties in Munster have always produced players for the province but no case has been made for games to be played or training centres to be based in Clare, Waterford, Tipperary or Kerry.
The most important thing is that work progresses as quickly as possible in getting the base up and running at UL, now that the decision has been made to establish it there.
The ongoing two-centre situation means that the Italian trip is a welcome opportunity for the squad to spend good time together.
Getting the two matches in Italy together was a bit of good thinking outside the box and I believe Niall O'Donovan had a big hand to play in it.
The week over there can be a big help to the squad, and while obviously the two games will take precedence, there will be plenty of time in between for pitch sessions and a great opportunity for lads to bond.
Funnily enough I'm not that familiar with playing in northern Italy. I've played against them several times here but not over there, but I'm sure the lads will enjoy the change in environment and they will come back firing on all cylinders, especially if as expected, they secure both victories.