The big interview - Mike Sherry: 'We know it's still in our hands to get into Europe'
Experienced No 2 is looking forward to next season but hopes he can help rescue this one
Munster hooker Mike Sherry is enthusiastic about what lies ahead for his province next season, but he knows these two concluding Pro12 fixtures could shape the future of Munster Rugby.
Qualification for the Champions Cup is imperative, and the 27-year-old is cognisant that the lessons learned from 2015-'16 need to get entrenched in the psyche of this young Munster squad.
It could be the making of them: similar setbacks have transformed other Munster teams into European giants. Now the cycle needs to begin all over again.
But next season will be a fresh start for all involved, the incoming Johan 'Rassie' Erasmus could make a huge difference as the Director of Rugby.
Not only that, but with Munster finally collating all of their efforts into the centre of excellence in UL, there are many reasons to get excited for the coming season.
But first and foremost, it's all about qualifying for the top tier of European rugby again. Challenge Cup rugby won't suffice, if Sherry and the rest of the Munster home-grown talent want to bring back the good times.
"We had a good look at the league table on Monday morning, and all of the permutations that are involved. But ultimately it boils down to winning our last two home games.
"Any Munster team that plays a game at home wants to do that, and backs themselves to do it. That's the challenge that faces us and we look forward to it.
"I know things haven't gone well this year, and there have been disappointing results and disappointing form but it's still in our hands to get into Europe," he said.
In a difficult season, Munster have still had some top performers throughout their squad, and Sherry has been one of the most influential leaders.
In his sixth season as part of the first-team, Sherry has all of the experience to help the team through this tough time, and were it not for injury he could have had more than 92 caps.
The Limerick native has also played for Ireland before, and although he is still so young he knows it's vital he helps the next generation of Munster talent make the most of their potential.
But with Niall Scannell improving all of the time, and Duncan Casey and Kevin O'Byrne all for competition, Sherry has had to dig deep to keep his place in the team.
However, he has finally got a run in the side without injuries catching up with him, and he has revelled - Sherry has played 22 times this season and scored seven tries.
"Initially at the start of the season, if I had been offered to be involved in almost every game this year, I would have bitten your hand off.
"But circumstances change expectations and I won't look back on this season with much fondness, in terms of our performance on the pitch.
"I think we have been short on a few occasions that have cost us dearly in Europe. We still have a good chance of qualifying, but overall as players and as an ambitious group we won't be happy with our performance.
"It's strange, when I got injured I had just turned 25 and there was a lot of senior players in the squad.
" When I came back I had just turned 27, and I was one of the more experienced guys in the squad.
"It is fun, I enjoy it, I have to become a leader. I enjoy chatting to the coaches about different things. It has been challenging, and there are a few of us in the same position.
"We would have built up a bank of experience and knowledge going through what we have gone through this season," he said.
And that will stand to Munster in the future. With such a young indigenous group, if they can stick together they could be back to the top table before long.
At the moment they are struggling to find the direct route that will give them a steady footing for next season. But with two wins over Edinburgh and Scarlets, things could be a whole lot different.
"Having the one centre will be a big advantage for us, and looking back we will be wondering how the hell we did the travel up and down to Cork twice a week. It is going to be such an advantage to be together for four or five days a week.
"From a forwards' point of view, you work on the line-outs and the scrums and the more time you have together the more detail you can put on that, and the more clarity you can have going into the weekend.
"It is going to be great, it is also going to make us a lot more attractive for foreign players to come, looking at the quality of the centre and having it all in the one area, in UL.
"It can be a great advantage to us, and I think it will.
"I am looking forward to working with Johan (Erasmus). I have heard great things about him. There is always a sense of excitement when a new coach is coming in. He will bring his own thoughts and ideas and marry them in with what we are about in Munster for the last 20 years.
"It's really exciting and it can only add to us. And we can look at next season as a great challenge and bring forward what we have learned from this season.
"We can also marry that in with what he is going to bring over from South Africa.
"I'm sure he is going to have very strong thoughts and policies on the game, and I can't wait to see what he has to say."