Mike Haley getting used to life in fast lane

Mike Haley getting used to life in fast lane

No matter how well things are going, there is always something to knock you off kilter.

Luckily for Mike Haley, the small wrinkle upsetting his general feeling of happiness is strictly in the category of a first world problem and almost literally a thorn in his side.

It is a measure of how quickly and successfully the 24-year-old full-back has transitioned to life at Munster on and off the field that a non-operative electric scooter is really the only cause for complaint during his conversation with the Irish Examiner this week.

“There’s an inch-long nail which got stuck in the wheel the other day and it’s so cold I can’t get it changed, so I need to figure out how to fix that before it goes away for good,” Haley admitted.

There has been a lot to figure out since his summer move from Sale Sharks, the club he had joined as a 13-year-old, but Haley has been helped by the fact that he found his feet so quickly both in and away from the rugby.

Having grown up making family trips from his Lancashire home in Preston to the grandmother in Tralee that has given him his eligibility to play for Ireland, Haley was never a stranger to these shores.

Yet the former England Saxons player was grateful for the opportunity to share a house with Sammy Arnold and former Sale team-mate Ciaran Parker as he looked for a home from himself and partner Lucy, and then to move in with Jack O’Donoghue as he waited for the sale to go through.

He moved in last week with his black labrador Bob and Lucy will join him permanently in the new year as they plan for the arrival of their first child, expected in February, though Haley will not forget the welcome he received from his new team-mates.

“Moving to a new club, I think it was a blessing in disguise to have lived with them. You’re around new people and they took me to other lads’ houses and I’d have it no other way; if you want to get to know everybody as soon as possible, it’s the best way to do it, I’d say.

“And I moved into my house last Wednesday, so my girlfriend was straight over, putting wallpaper up in the baby room. I can’t wait.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind trying to sort the house out and everything else that comes with having a baby.

“But it’s going great. The lads are great fun. From day one, you’re part of the team and I think the main thing was that all they ever ask of you is to work hard. You work hard and you’re going to gain respect. They’ve been good fun. They like to do things outside of the training centre, going for coffees or meals or whatever it is. I think I’ll be meeting up for baby creches in the future though!

“It’s all been a great experience, especially in your first year, you just want to take everything on board and roll with it. That’s definitely what it’s been for the first half of this season, I’ve enjoyed it to the max.”

There is also more to the scooter than meets the eye for that too played its part in helping the new boy settle into his new surroundings during the summer. Haley arrived in Ireland minus his car following a crash before his departure and in need of some independence as he found his feet in Limerick he bought the battery-powered scooter to get himself about the place. Any trepidation about turning up at Munster’s High Performance Centre on two wheels was quickly allayed when several of his new team-mates ordered their own.

“All the boys loved it and in the end there was a little crew of us, maybe seven or eight of us. It’s good craic and when the better weather comes back you’ll see us all riding about. You’ve got to pick your days. But it was probably the best thing I did at the start of the season and it got me a few friends as well.”

Munster supporters are also beginning to see the benefits of Haley’s comfort in his new surroundings as he continues to make the number 15 jersey his own with performances of increasing assurance as the last line of defence as well as attacking threat.

Last Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup home win over Castres was perhaps his most complete display to date and more of the same will do very nicely as Munster enter Stade Pierre Fabre tonight for the return fixture against the French champions. Haley is satisfied with his rate of progress in red having been given all the game time he needs with 10 starts in the first 13 games of the season to assimilate into what head coach Johann van Graan asks of him.

“It takes a little bit of time to understand a new club, how they play, where you’re going to fit in to that and what they also want you to bring to the table. With more minutes the more comfortable I feel out there and the more I understand what they want and the more I know when I have a free rein to do what I do, whatever that is!

“It’s getting there. Me and Johann spoke very early in the season and he said ‘this isn’t a case of you’re in the side, magic has to happen’.

“It will happen and I know that and I’m confident in myself that that will happen but if you try and force something then you’re going down the wrong path and going away from what you’re good at. You just have to let things happen. It might take eight games and nothing happens in those eight games but in the ninth game if something opens and your instinct is to go with it… you know, the great thing with Johann is that he’s been fully supportive and completely backs me as a player, which is all you want as a player. You want your coaches to give you free rein and if something’s on you take it. And if maybe you thought it was on and it wasn’t on then you get the constructive criticism on what to do next time and in the future.

“The great thing is they back you to be a leader on the pitch and being leader on the pitch is being able to make decisions on the go and when you make that decision you have to be 100% on that decision and whether that’s running the ball, putting up a high ball, kicking it into the backfield, whatever it is , if you’re working off those decisions 100% and you have great players like Keith Earls and Andrew Conway, Darren Sweetnam around you, who are always going to feed in with comms, it’s fantastic. With that you’re always going to go well, I really enjoying playing like that and I think I’ve gone from strength to strength since the start of the season.

“When you’re playing the game you want to play you’re always going to enjoy it. I think it’s been a case, not of building confidence but trying to establish when and where to bring what I bring.” When Munster announced the capture of Haley’s signature on a three-year contract last February, head coach van Graan made it clear the full-back was a perfect fit for his plans to make the backline more of an attacking threat.

“We were looking for a very specific type of player, that can slot in at second receiver,” van Graan told the Irish Examiner in February. “He’s got good decision-making abilities and that can deliver special moments. He’s a very good fit for that.”

Likewise, Haley talks of joining a squad where he can sense “a buzz of excitement”, not just in the developing gameplan but the variety of style Munster can adopt to get the job done, including last Sunday’s 30-5 win.

“They want to get better and I think we’re starting to show that more and more in our performances,” said Haley. “We’re starting to build towards more complete performances; every game isn’t going to be perfect but we’re grinding out games. Look at last weekend, playing against the Top 14 champions, no easy side and it took us a good 50, 60 minutes to break them down and the good thing is we have the breadth of experience that lads know things aren’t going to happen straight away. You need to grind, you need to work but we all know where we want to go and we’re on the right path. “It’s just a process, isn’t it?”

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