Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Dust Settles

You might have wondered what happens after the last test! Well, we get a very welcome break, a few nights out and a few nights away from the pitch, gym, each other and well just a chance to relax and unwind!

It’s done and dusted, we salvaged some pride in the last match which was some consolation but not what we came here for, its dissappointing to not win the series no matter how you feel you did personally, it’s a team thing and failing to reach our goal is never easy to accept...

The whole tour was of course an amazing experience, on and off the pitch, one I am very proud to have taken part in. Personally I have had a great season, a grand slam win and Heineken Cup victory, while it would have been great to cap it off with victory in the Lion’s test series I really can’t complain too much. Right now I am off on (what I feel!) is a well deserved break for a few weeks before next season so all that’s left to do is thank the people who followed the blog and for not only reading here but for all the support from back home and those who came down with us. Thanks for all the kind messages they were really appreciated throughout. Roll on next season – another big year in Irish sport!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lion's Pride

Well, it was not the dream test match leveler we were all hoping for, in fact it’s gutting to have held onto something for such a large part of the game and to probably have been the better side until that smash right at the end. It's heartbreaking, I'm happy with how I played and I think that as a team we dug deep and performed really well.

I suppose that what makes things just harder to take, when guys are playing out of their skins, and putting in some fantastic performances, to fall just short is heartbreaking. We know South Africa play a physical game and probably two of our key guys in the centre took the brunt of that. It was unfortunate to lose those guys. But we will pick ourselves up now and a 2-1 defeat will be much better than 3-0.

Saturday night was a sombre affair with a few beers and a lot of aches and pains.It's over now and we have to look forward to the next challenge this weekend. We have had a few days off and got to go on safari in the Kruger national park, I even got to pet a Lion, not something you get to do everyday.

So back to training tomorrow and focus on salvaging some pride and a result on Saturday and then it’s the long awaited holidays. It's been such a busy year, time has flown by, but I'll admit, holidays are a very welcome addition, some time to rest and recuperate. Fingers crossed for a big performance on Saturday and I will finish my season on a high!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Worth the wait

Well it’s been worth waiting for as they say; I’m absolutely delighted to be starting on Saturday in my preferred position – 15! Actually overjoyed! It’s been a tough week in terms of the weather here, and it has not helped our training, but our heads are right and we are really looking forward to Saturday and feel very positive about how we want to approach the game and get a result.

The rain has been as bad as any Irish man has ever seen… so indoors has been the focus. I’ve immersed myself in DVD's, email’s ,video’s and even managed to get out to dinner with my cousin and her friend the other night, really nice to see family and get away from my roomie for an hour! Actually Harry is the best roommate on tour!

We fly up late on Friday to the venue (Loftus Versfeld – Pretoria), this will minimize the effect of the altitude, I think we arrive there around midnight. The weather is much better up there, so looking forward to seeing the sun again! Again the support has been phenomenal and I’m really looking forward to lining out with the my six other Irish colleagues on Saturday and performing to the best of our ability, getting the result we know we can.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

First Test

So it’s the eve of the first test and everybody is geared up for it. We always meet as a team the night before a match at 6.15 pm where Paulie (Paul O’Connell) and a few other boys say a few words. Paulie spoke really passionately about the game ahead and it started to hit home what actually was awaiting the lucky 22 players. The mood was really good and everyone was all geared up for the first whistle.

After dinner that evening myself, Lukey, Paulie and Neil (one of our security guys) went to the cinema to see The Hangover where we laughed straight for about two hours. Paulie looked liked one giant red tomato after it all. I haven’t seen a movie as funny as that in a long time, always good for the nerves to get out and about and try to take your mind off the game. On leaving the cinema we bumped into the funnymen Hector Ó Eochagáin and Risteárd Cooper who are back again with their candid commentary of the tour. We were having a good chat before Lukey and Hector started blabbing away together as Gaelige and that was the end of that!

I came back to the hotel at about 10pm, got my boots and went to Rala’s room for the pre match ritual of changing studs and giving them a clean! It’s something the Irish boys do in his room before every test, just one of these traditions that nobody likes to miss and will even knock on his door early in the morning to get it done. Rala being the welcoming character he is, puts on his smiley face (even if he doesn't want to!) and opens the door! Thankfully I always sleep well before games, and nod off at around 11 excited about what lay ahead...

We had our usual pre-game routine, boring breakfast and the ever tasteless chicken and pasta. The team met at 1.30pm for the presentation of our jerseys. We were honored to have Willie John Mc Bride do the duties, he gave us a few inspirational words and the fact that we were embarking on a special moment began to sink in.

Unfortunately the end result didn't go our way, everybody was gutted after the game but we know we have what it takes to beat them next time, we just have to get out of the blocks earlier! Making my test debut was a very proud moment for me and hopefully I'll get the opportunity to wear the jersey again.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Team selection

Team selection was a bit nerve wrecking on Wednesday evening. There are always going to be people disappointed, but it’s a long tour and lots of opportunity to come. I’m delighted to be part of the first test, although like all players, I would rather be starting, but it will be a great honour for me and I’ll hopefully feature at some stage during the game.

The hype is great, with more and more lions fans arriving and the media starting to talk up the South Africans. We have done our Prep work and are confident in our ability although expect a real dog fight because I reckon it will be one of the most intense, physical games of the season…. Enjoy the game!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Business Time

So now we’re into the business end of the tour. The next three weeks will determine how the Lions Tour 2009 will be remembered, not the fact that we have won the last five games on the trot! The mood in the camp is still really good; out of every tour I’ve been on this is probably the one that I’ve enjoyed most. All the lads on the tour are very easy to get on with, the places we are playing in are lovely, there are cool stadiums and we’re playing against some of the best teams in the world.

The Western Province game was a close call. James Hook’s penalty at the end was a cracker and saved us the blushes! Again, I really enjoyed playing in it although the weather was as bad as I’ve played in in a long time. I picked up a nasty dead leg with 15 minutes to go which has ruled me out of today’s game but I hope to be back training on it later today which will hopefully put me back into contention for test selection, so nervous times ahead for a lot of us.

Rob continued, “Last night we went out for Joe Worsely’s birthday. We went to a 3 star Michelin restaurant called Nobu to celebrate, it has to be one on the tastiest meals I’ve had in a long time! The 20 of us had to be rolled out of the place after the amount of food that was eaten; they even had a surprise cake to embarrass the birthday boy in front of all the other guests and supporters! On that note, the place is really starting to have a supporter buzz about it; they’re flocking in their thousands which is always good to see and great to have that behind you! Cape Town is the most beautiful place we've visited yet although the weather has been poor, but seeing as it is their winter it’s to be expected!

For the first time on tour the squad has been split up, the 22 playing today left on Sunday evening for Port Elizabeth and we will all get back together this evening! So it’s the last chance for people to make a case for a test spot, nervous times ahead but hopefully the Irish boys come out good!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sharks & Cheetah

‘What about her eyes’???!!
I’m sure you're all aware of Tommy Bowes little rendition of Black Velvet's tune (for those of you who haven’t seen it, please feel free to check out the link. Well poor Tommy seems determined to silent his singing critics and hit back, however he keeps failing. After the game on Saturday he was feeling confident to give it another crack, needless to say, it hasn’t got any better! You can only feel sorry for him though, we were walking through the team hotel the other day when a group of supporters started jeering at Tommy.... "what about her eyes" I’m afraid it’s something he might have for life!!

So three wins out of three. I know I keep coming back to the results but to be honest, this tour is all about wining and as a squad we're genuinely delighted to have 3 under our belt. Last Wednesday was a great occasion for me both personally and as a member of The Lions squad. To make your Lions debut is always a very proud moment and one which I really enjoyed and will remember forever, particularly when you score 73 points against the opposition. Myself and Mike Philips were the only two backs not to score which was a point for a lot of slagging after the game!

Last Saturday wasn’t exactly the performance we wanted but again we got the win (luckily one might add) although to be fair to the Cheetahs, they were a better side. The Natal Sharks are up this weekend, they won the Super 14 last year and are sure to give us a tough game but I still expect us to win!

We're in Durban at the moment, the weather isn’t great and believe me, some of the boys aren’t happy about it especially Donnchadh who’s desperately missing the sun! Our roomies have changed again and I’ve got my first Welshman in Martin Williams and no, there hasn’t been any banter about the grand slam. You tend to leave those jokes at home.The Welsh boys are all really good lads and have made a big difference in creating the strong team atmosphere.

On our day off this week we went diving with sharks and snorkeling in a local theme park which was good fun. Needless to say these sharks were all behind bars, although there were the few brave forwards who fancied their chances swimming into the cages!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

1 for 1

So one week down with five to go and it's been a great first week on tour, capped off with getting that all important win on Saturday. O.K, its wasn't the greatest spectacle but miracles aren't going to happen in the first game and we all expect things to improve this Wednesday.

Given the fact that the Leinster boys missed the first weeks preparations with the Heineken Cup Final, it was decided that none of us would start the first game but thankfully we are getting to do just that on Wednesday. Really looking forward to getting back on the field and attempting to try and play an expansive game. The weather and hard track make playing much more enjoyable but I have to admit, the altitude really affects the ol' lungs.... there are times during training I feel like a seventy year old man!!

Good to see Brian getting his opportunity to captain the side, I know it's always a huge honor for him and to have himself and Jamie on the field with me will be nice.

Outside of the rugby, Camp has been fun, still rooming with Simon Shaw, but I think we are due a change up on Thursday when we go to Bloomfontein.... always an interest/worry who you're paired with!!! Will he snore or will he smell badly?!!

A diamond supplier came to our hotel last evening with some good deals, a few of the boys were casually snooping around without trying to set wedding bells ringing... I couldn't possibly name the culprits!!

Other than this we haven't really left the hotel too much, lots of X-Box, pool and table-tennis as well as a few songs from Ricky Flutey who has an awesome voice, you never expect a Maori to sing that well! So that's all from me at the moment, hopefully we will be 2/2 next time you check in!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lion's Den

I think the Lions Tour has to be the pinnacle of any rugby players career, awaiting to hear about the squad announcement was a very nerve wrecking two minutes and like everyone else, I heard about the call up through Skysports.

To have 14 Irish players in the initial squad is a sure sign of where Irish rugby is at the moment, a real testament to the level of coaching in the country. Ian McGeechan is a great man to have in charge, he has that element of old school combined with new era of professionalism that is so important in the game.

Everyone knows South African rugby is a force to be reckoned with, however I¹m confident if we gel both on and off the field we are more than capable of success on the tour. The provincial games beforehand will give us a feel for what the games will be like as well as getting the opportunity to play with some of the greatest players in world rugby. I¹m especially excited about the game against the South African Sharks who won the super 14 cup last year, it will surely be a great contest and give us a feel early on about what South African rugby is all about.

On a lions tour is important that everybody makes a strong effort to get to know to know one another and already the slagging has started which is always a good sign. I¹m really looking forward to playing with all the players, there are a lot of really good Welsh players and the cream of English and Scottish too. I¹ve always admired the tour, a dream which I¹m now living, back in 1997 that famous behind the scenes DVD (Living with Lions) gave me a real sign of what goes on, so it¹s a bit surreal being involved. I was fortunate enough to already have some experience down in South Africa having been involved with the U 19s world cup squad in Durban.

Off the training pitch I can¹t wait to see the Champions league with the lads tomorrow night, the bets are been taken heavily by the "bookmakers" in the squad and as a Manchester United man I've loaded on them..... they better come good for me but I¹m confident we can do a job on Barcelona, it¹s good to see O¹Shea getting a start, Tevez has to stay in my mind both players are more than deserving of a start I predict a 2-1 victory. Rooney Ronaldo for the scores! come on the reds!!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Champions Of Europe

We were in a really tight game for the full 80 minutes and as you can imagine, the final whistle could not have come sooner. It has been a long time coming and I can safely say it is an incredible feeling to have been crowned champions of Europe. The support from the crowd was mind blowing, and to see so many people in Edinburgh was overwhelming, Murrayfield really was a sea of blue, like nothing I could ever have imagined. We, as a team really are very lucky to have such passionate fans. It was a match of tremendous physicality, Rocky Elsom was a colossus but the whole team showed a work ethic worthy of the Cup; we had the edge and now we have our place in history.

The province has come a long way and for us this is the culmination of many years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears. A successful season thus far with hopefully more to come. We travelled home that night, the atmosphere at the airport was incredible, everybody was singing and chanting and wanting to congratulate the team.

I did get to celebrate a little, but had to drive my car home first and change luggage as we had an early Sunday morning flight to Heathrow to join up with the Lion's squad. One rollercoaster to the next, tough not getting to celebrate with the lads for a few days, but Lion's duty takes over and I hope to get as much game time as soon as possible. Needless to say I did manage a bit of celebrating prior to departure and had a good 11 hour sleep from Heathrow to Jo Burg, our first port of call...

We did not train on Monday and the Leinster and Leicester Heineken Cup players will not be involved in Saturdays first game. I am rooming with Simon Shaw of England and Wasps, a top bloke..

I’m feeling good after two days of rest and looking forward to getting on the field this afternoon for training.

Hi all, welcome to my Lions tour diary.