By Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh
This season will mark Devin Toner’s 13th as a Leinster player, proving that the only thing that can match his height is his longevity.
The 6ft 11in lock made his debut against Borders in 2006 — a Scottish team no longer in existence.
Still only 32, the forward believes he has a “few years” left in the game, and has welcomed the competition from the likes of James Ryan, who is a decade younger and one of the newer kids on the Leinster block.
“I look at him and I go, ‘you have got 13 more years left in you.’ I’m not jealous of that at all,” said Toner, laughing.
“They are starting weights when they are in fourth year — I didn’t even start weights until I left school.”
Toner is, he admits, the last of a “dying breed’, but there’s no hint that he’s ready to step aside for anyone.
“It was one of the biggest questions put to me last year as well, about competition, but I think it’s the best for any squad to be honest,” he said.
Toner’s enjoying rugby more than ever, and after an unprecedented league/Europe double last season, that’s perhaps no surprise.
It took Toner’s personal tally as a Leinster player to nine trophies — an honour that’s now illustrated on a wall in one of the Leinster HQ meeting rooms, where all of the club’s trophy-winning teams are shown in one giant montage.
Some 218 caps have been won since his first in 2006, but the 19 starts of last season are officially his favourite.
“It’s hard to talk about how much it means but it was absolutely brilliant, it was unbelievable,” he said of that campaign. “I think I only lost one game last year and that was the Connacht game.”
He started two of Ireland’s Tests in Australia in June, making more history along the way, but the summer break was a chance to press the reset button — as he’s learned to do so many times.
“You wipe it clean, to be honest. This is my 13th season and every pre-season... you go on holidays, you kinda forget, and then you go in again, you’re starting from scratch again. You reference back to what happened and everything and what we want emulate, but what we are talking about this year is we do want to get better.
“We didn’t perform well at a lot of stages last year, so we have to be better than that. You can see every other team is getting better as well, so it’s just one of those things. There is a target on all of our backs. That’s just one of those things that we’re going to have to live with.”