Saturday 21 September 2019

'We are all unbelievably motivated to end trophy drought'

Semi-final heartbreak in Europe and injury woes have given Ireland flyer plenty to play for

Andrew Conway going through his paces at training this week. Photo: Sportsfile
Andrew Conway going through his paces at training this week. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Munster exited the Champions Cup with another devastating reversal at the hands of European heavyweight two weeks ago.

This time Racing 92 delivered the telling blows, but opportunity still knocks in the Guinness PRO14, and several of the potential Irish contingent will then focus on their summer plans and a trip to Australia.

Andrew Conway is one of the internationals who hasn't booked any holiday yet, but that certainly doesn't mean his head is anywhere other than the league run-in.

Munster haven't won a trophy since their brilliant 19-9 win over Leinster at Thomond Park in the Celtic League Grand Final on May 28, 2011.

Since Munster's third crown, the league has been renamed the PRO12, Ospreys, Glasgow and Scarlets have won it once each, Connacht also claimed their inaugural piece of silverware in 2015-'16, while Leinster were champions in 2013 and '14.

In Europe, Munster were caught out by Saracens and Racing in the last two years, but Conway says the province are desperate to finally put things right in the now PRO14.

"It was really disappointing to lose in Bordeaux, but on the other side of it we still have the league with the quarter-final to come, it is massive," says Conway.

"The club haven't won a trophy in so long, and we are all very aware of that. We feel year on year that we can't let that go on any longer, we are unbelievably motivated to win a trophy. Obviously Europe is the pinnacle but with the PRO14 there has been a massive amount of work put in by everyone, and we are looking at getting into a semi-final now.

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"We want to be in finals and win trophies."

Munster came so close to finally making a breakthrough last season, but then they lost to a Scarlets juggernaut in the PRO12 final.

The 26-year-old former Leinster winger was one of the try scorers at Aviva Stadium, but the Welsh ran out deserving 46-22 victors.

"It's hard to compare years because so much happens throughout the rugby season," says Conway.

"Scarlets is forgotten about. You can reference back to the previous years and those losses can stand to you, but there is only so much relevance they have to the 80 minutes there in front of you.

"And whatever competition you're playing in that bit of hurt from the few years gone by is probably good, in terms of motivation, but it doesn't count for much when you get out on the pitch.

massive "You have got a massive challenge every time and thinking back to disappointments gone by doesn't help you too much."

The Dublin native has scored 30 tries in 94 appearances for Munster since his debut against Zebre in September 2013. But his most famous effort arrived in the epic 20-19 Champions Cup quarter-final win over Toulon this season.

It set up a semi-final clash with Racing 92, but despite another score from the ex-Blackrock College student, Munster left it too late, in a 27-22 defeat.

"It was very tough to take, we had a very similar group at the same stage last year when we lost to Saracens. It's all about learning the lessons and we obviously haven't, if we are being brutally honest about it," says Conway.

"We came up short and underperformed in the semi-final, and we don't have any excuses. We had good preparation for the heat from the two weeks in South Africa, you can look at the travel as not being ideal but you can counteract that with the benefit of the training in the heat over there, and having a close-knit group. From our side, our preparation couldn't have been much better.

"It was just a terrible opening 20 or 30 minutes and then even with that we could've made the score 21-10 when we are pressing on the line at half-time and that would've changed the whole complexion of the game for both teams in the dressing rooms."

Munster couldn't claw their way back into contention and now it's all about the league, and ending their drought in that competition.

Then this summer Joe Schmidt will bring his Grand Slam heroes to Australia for a three-Test tour with the Wallabies, which begins on June 9.

Conway was desperately unlucky to miss out on the Six Nations through injury but is determined to make this opportunity count, when the time comes.

"There was cartilage damage and a few other things wrong with my knee. But it was a fairly straightforward injury that a lot of lads would have," Conway adds. "It was a three-week one and for my own fault I pushed it too hard because I missed France and Italy. It was the Wales week that we were trying to push back for, three or four weeks later.

"I knew it wasn't quite right but I tried to trick myself into thinking that it wasn't as bad as it was.

"It was unbelievably frustrating. But there are other lads who have long-term injuries and are out for the season.

"I was out for nine weeks. Okay, it was at a big moment in my career so far, but what can you do, that's just rugby and you get on with it.

"You know the tour is there now, but you don't think about it.

"It's not a reality until you're actually selected and until the Munster season is over.

"There are three games left for Munster hopefully, and then my thoughts are on Australia. But until then it's all Munster."

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