It has been a good couple of months for Munster on the field, bouncing back from a European pool opening defeat at Edinburgh to move top of the group with back-to-back wins over Perpignan and occupying top place in the RaboDirect Pro12 ahead of Saturday night’s resumption of league action at Musgrave Park against Scarlets.
Off the field developments in that period have been just as encouraging for the province, with Munster landing Irish-born Cardiff Blues No.8 Robin Copeland for next season, while Tommy O’Donnell, Conor Murray and, on Sunday, Donnacha Ryan have committed their futures to Munster and Ireland rather than being lured away by overseas interest in their signatures.
Skipper Peter O’Mahony, Mike Sherry and Simon Zebo have also signed new deals within the last 12 months and Kilcoyne believes it bodes well for the homegrown talent to prosper in their native province.
“There’s no doubt that this is a special place. I grew up with Munster, I’ve supported the team all my life, went to both finals in 2006 and 2008 and you realise just how steeped in tradition the side is,” Kilcoyne told The Irish Examiner.
“There’s no doubt, to see people like Peter and Conor sign on, they’ve witnessed all that and now they’re a major part of it. We all want that success they had and that’s what we’re all trying to work towards now. I’d be very good friends with Conor, we lived together last year, and to see a player of Conor’s quality sign on for another two years (is great). I’ve often talked to Conor and his dream and all our dreams would be to win the Heineken Cup with Munster. He’s committed to the cause and also seeing Robin signing, it’s a huge boost to the province.”
Last season’s run to the semi-finals, where Munster were pipped at the post by Clermont Auvergne in Montpellier, has sown seeds of belief among Kilcoyne and his contemporaries about how much is possible to achieve and that optimism will have been boosted by Saturday’s victory against the odds in Perpignan.
“I think it just showed you how possible winning a Heineken Cup is. When you get into those stages it can often come down to, as Paulie often talks about, it’s not the team with the talent, it’s the team who wants it more.
“That’s a huge part of what we’re about, work-rate, wanting it maybe more, being aggressive and physical and having huge intensity and I think that can ground out big games and wins. You know, a bounce of the ball differently against Clermont and we could have been a Heineken Cup final last season. Who knows from there but it didn’t happen and now we’re back to square one and trying to get there again.
“We’ve a young crop here mixed in with an older crop and we’re all trying to bring the best out of each other.
“There’s a good blend there of youth and experience and everyone’s on the same page at the moment. The gameplan, that mental strength is building within the squad and I think Munster are in a good place.”
Munster head coach Rob Penney also believes there are plenty of reasons for optimism in the province, from the successful returns from injury on Saturday of both Ryan and O’Donnell, instrumental in JJ Hanrahan’s winning try as a substitute, the current hot form of O’Donnell’s openside flanker rival Sean Dougall and the imminent comeback of Zebo from a broken bone in his foot suffered in October.
No wonder Penney believes Munster have a great platform heading into the potential pool decider at Gloucester in four weeks, the date for which will be confirmed tomorrow by tournament organisers ERC.
“I think it will be massive. If you look at the pivotal moments in our season and what they have done. The Glasgow away victory (on October 25) and what that did for us, there are just moments in your season that can turn you. With a bit of luck, and you have to make your own, we can use this as a nice springboard into the next Heineken Cup matches.
“We are grateful to get Donnacha Ryan back and get a bit of footie on the back of a pretty horrendous injury. Tommy O’Donnell is also back now and looking as good as he has been. Dougs has played international calibre footie for the last two weeks now so we are getting a few back on stream.
“We got Zebo coming back after Christmas so, yeah, we have a nice bit of depth.
“A moment like this for this group is special. They realise it is a bit special.”