I suppose the interaction between us and the seniors has changed a lot since my first year. We were very much a separate entity but between last year and this year we've joined up with them a lot more using the same plays and following a similar schedule.
Everything is a lot more professional now as well with the added resources the academy has received. We have everything catered for - nutritional needs, conditioning, weights and speed sessions, additional fitness sessions, on-field training sessions that mimic the senior set-up, and I suppose the attitude of the players is far more professional as a result.
As a senior academy member now, how have you adapted to the changes each year with players coming and going?
It brings home how short-term and fickle it can be, if you're not playing well or if you're not keeping up to the Munster standard you won't last too long. From a personal point of view you try to impress the coaches as much as possible and come up through the system and hopefully graduate to the senior set-up. I suppose I'm always looking over my shoulder as well for the other players coming through, so the pressure is always on but it's a good thing, you can never be idle and you are always looking to improve.
What's it like training with players like de Villiers and Howlett?
It's very surreal, but it's not only them, it's people like ROG who would have always been a role model for me growing up and someone like Earls, who was only a year ahead of me in school and seeing the success he's had in the last couple of years is fantastic, if I could ever emulate anything like that I would be delighted!
When I first came into the academy I suppose I would have been somewhat over-awed, training with established internationals like Stringer and ROG, but it comes to a point now where you have to show them respect but in essence you're competing for their place. So when I'm involved in sessions these days I'm in training mode and I just try and do my best.
The academy had a team-bonding day recently.....
We went down to Tralee last Saturday for a Christmas party for the academy players and coaches, and we spent about three hours paintballing and no matter what team you were on Ian Sherwin obviously got hit the most! We hit John O'Sullivan's pub afterwards for dinner and to watch the match, and we had a great night.
How do you cope with the rugby/college life?
I've to keep on top of things week by week, making sure things are organised and not let things build up, and when it comes to exam time hopefully I'll get through it! I've always believed that you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket and a degree is very important to me as I still strive to be a professional rugby player. But it's certainly down to getting the balance right and I think it's beneficial having something outside of rugby as well.
Academy players don't really live the traditional college life and sacrifices need to be made but a lot of people would give anything to be in this position so they are sacrifices that we are willing to make. I train so much now and have video analysis that I try and take a break from it all then by chilling out with friends, going sailing or playing golf.
What it is like coming up against fellow academy players in your club games?
It's good if you're up against people in similar positions because you're both trying to out-do each other and show each other up but it's good competition and it probably brings the best out in you.
Are you all like Ian Nagle and Dave Foley keeping tabs on each other?
Well Nagle and Foley are ultra competitive, and they're both striving to make it over 100kg at the moment, constantly texting each other checking on each other's progress, but that would be it really. I live with Nagle so we would see each other often, between the academy and club rugby also, and if one of us doesn't get selected for a particular game it is pretty cut-throat to be honest and we just mock each over it!
You must be enjoying the additional game-time this year....
Well playing for UCC and now Cork Con has always granted me huge opportunities and given me a chance to show what I can do. Everything we train for we want to show out on the pitch in a match situation, and the club games and now the British & Irish Cup are a perfect outlet for that. Playing in the B&I Cup gives you additional chances to try and impress the coaches and it bridges the gap between AIL and the Magners League, so that if you're ever called into the squad you're not totally off the pace.