It only seems like five minutes ago that I sat in the South dressing room in Cardiff drinking a cup of tea with the Claw. The final whistle had just gone in the European Cup Final 2002. Outside in the stadium "We are the Champions" was blaring - except we weren't the champions - Leicester Tigers were. Not a word was spoken between us, sometimes it is better to say nothing. I was wearing my Blazer while Peter was wearing his famous No. 1 jersey for the last time. It seemed like the end of the world. Two years before I had been on the field at the final whistle having come on as a reserve, this time I was just another bum on a seat and it was even more frustrating. The only other person in the room was Peter's son Luke. He was kicking a ball up against the wall with a smile on his face completely oblivious to what had happened. It was then that it struck me - Life goes on, the future's bright!
Pre Season Day 1 - Its five weeks since Cardiff and we are back. If that isn't bad enough we have a Fitness Test on Day 1. Fitness Tests are like trips to the dentist - everybody dreads them! DR Liam Hennessey put us through our paces in an attempt to see just exactly how much we enjoyed our holidays. Surprisingly most guys were in pretty good shape including Mick Galway - how he does it at 48 years of age is beyond me! Every year there is a new fashion trend and this year is no exception. Most of the squad are sporting bleach blond hair. Its quite a sight to see eight guys running up and down the track with peroxide hair - they will have to sell sun glasses outside Thomand Park next season!
Changes - It was always going to be the end of an era with Declan and Niallo moving up to the Irish Team. They will always have a special place in Munster hearts. They transformed us from a bunch of "also rans" to one of Europe's top sides. Of course The Claw is going to spend more time in the Sin Bin - like he didn't spend enough time there when he was playing! In addition TT has gone to Leicester Tigers and Heggo to Leeds Tykes. Alan Gaffney and Brian Hickey have come in as coaches and are doing a really good job. Brian has coached UCC, Young Munster and Cork Con. He knows the province inside out. Alan is an Aussie - well Aussies are bloody good at everything! I think they will be a very good combination and it is reassuring to know that the team are in good hands.
New Faces - Munster have signed two overseas players in the off season. Dom Malone is a scrumhalf and played for Northampton in the ERC Final in 2000. He was the guy that Eddie Halvey caught from behind - so he can't be that quick! Simon Kerr is a prop who has played Super 12 for Queensland and NPC for Waikato and Warren O Kelly is a prop who plays for Clontarf - 2 more Fat Boys in other words! In addition a number of Development Players have been given contracts. Tom Hayes is the younger brother of John - enough said. Mossie Lawlor is a former Irish U 21 Captain and does a mean Enrique Iglasias impression! Peter Malone is another Irish U 21 player along with Frank Murphy and Conrad O Sullivan. Its great to see all the young faces and it keeps us "ould fellas" on our toes.
Season Ahead - Its going to be a difficult season ahead when you consider that most of the National Squad will be unavailable for the Celtic League. However this will bring opportunities to others. Some of the younger players will be thrown in at the deep end. It will be a great experience for them and having played against a lot of them in the AIL, I am in no doubt that they are up to the task. The Stringers, Foleys and O Garas will be back for the European Cup when it starts in October. Again expectations will be high, but we must first concentrate on trying to get out of our group. Gloucester are a very good side as are Perpignan who have signed Carlos Spencer and Manny Edmonds over the summer. So we will be up against it but we've been up against it before!
Finally I would just like to wish Dave Wallace & Paul O'Connell a speedy recovery from their operations. Don't play too much Playstation Guys!
'Til next time...