'We are not where we want to be but we are not far off'
With his Munster future secure, Moyross flyer is excited by single Limerick base next season
In January many Munster supporters feared the worst when one of their own, Keith Earls, looked set to fly the coop and join Premiership giants, Saracens, at the end of this season.
It would have been a massive blow to both Munster and Irish rugby, but an agreement was met and the British & Irish Lion was kept on these shores. Rumours had also circulated about his team-mates Conor Murray and Simon Zebo but Munster secured all three signatures.
The 2016-'17 season looks a whole lot healthier for Munster now, and if they can secure Champions Cup rugby, Anthony Foley's men could push to become one of Europe's elite again. And for Limerick man, Earls, he couldn't be happier.
The 28-year-old is set to marry his fiancée Edel in July, and with two young daughters, and being in the process of building a new home, it all made sense for Earls to commit to his boyhood club.
"I am happy with the decision I made. It was obviously tough. I had to put myself and my family first to assess negotiations. It's not a nice time for players, or the IRFU, or Munster, trying to get the right balance. I was a bit relieved in the end, but Saracens are a good club too.
"But when you are building a house and getting married in the summer and just having a kid last May, all in the one year, a move would have been tough.
"I am just happy it worked out, and I will stay with Munster for another three years," he said.
Earls has scored 36 tries in 121 appearances for Munster, and the Moyross native is looking forward to next season when Munster will be operating from the one centre in Limerick.
"It will be great to have the Limerick centre, just a stone's throw from my house. It's tough on the Cork boys but it leaves us having a more productive day, not having to travel an hour in the car down to Mitchelstown, not having to go to Cork. It has worked out the last couple of years, but now it's time to get more professional.
"With the new centre, looking at plans it's going to be phenomenal. But at the same time it will still be exciting to head down to Irish Independent Park to play in front of Cork supporters too."
As Munster prepare to grow their Limerick roots, it comes at a time when the province are going back to basics with their squad too. Munster won two European Cups on the back of a home-grown playing staff.
Coach Anthony Foley has placed his faith behind the talent in the province this term, and Earls says it will all pay off next season when these players have even more experience.
"Against Zebre we saw 15 starters all born and bred in Munster which was great. It just shows the talent that's coming through. The main thing is them getting their chance, keeping them hungry, and keeping them playing for the right reasons, for the jersey. It was brilliant to see all these young fellas coming through.
"Rory Scannell has really come on this year. He was always in and around training, and he got his chance and he took it with both hands. He was an unbelievable find.
"He has been a bit of a gem for us. He is quite young, but you see it in the way he plays. He is very physical, he is a great ball player and he has a great work-rate off the field.
"In the recent years the team was always full of Munster men with one or two foreigners brought in to polish off the team. You always need a couple of superstars from the southern hemisphere.
"But it's important for the supporters, they need to be able to relate to us, with how we have grown up. We have lived and breathed Munster Rugby since we were young and hopefully the boys keep coming through."
With the influx of youth, Murray, Zebo and Earls have become the elder statesmen in the Munster backline and they have had to lead by example since they returned from international duty.
In recent seasons Earls has suffered from injury and his impact has been limited, but since the World Cup he has got his chance and taken it.
"I'm very happy with my game. I have got a good run of games now. The body is good, no serious issues with it. Just enjoying it, with Munster not going so well that's disappointing. We are not where we want to be, but we are not far off.
"When you're not worrying about injury it gives you the opportunity to concentrate on your game. Since January 2015, when I first came back, and up until now, it's been going well.
"It's been fairly full on with not too many breaks. It's great to see that my body can hold on that long and it's probably myself adjusting what I have been doing off the field. It helps to find the right routine."
In the summer Earls will look to add to his 50 Irish caps when they tour South Africa, but for now he must focus on helping Munster reach the Champions Cup again.
The Pro12 play-offs may be too far away this term but they haven't given up hope, and a win over Connacht could send Munster in the right direction.
"There won't be any easy matches. It's pressure rugby at this end of the year whether you are in quarter-finals or trying to qualify for top four. It's going to be tough, Connacht are flying form this year, but hopefully we will get over the line."