Patience and hard work paying off for Billy Holland

There have been plenty of times during Billy Holland’s long Munster career that the grass on the other side has seemed an awful lot greener than at home.
Patience and hard work paying off for Billy Holland

That he never hopped over the fence to see for himself is down to a variety of reasons but after years of patiently waiting in line for a series of legendary locks to move on, the 32-year-old’s patience is being rewarded and Holland is relishing every minute he gets to pull on the jersey.

And how those minutes have racked up over the past couple of years. Having played in 29 of Munster’s 32 games during last season’s run to the Champions Cup semi-finals and Guinness PRO12 final, Holland is now preparing to start a 14th straight game of this campaign when Munster travel to Leicester Tigers for Sunday’s European return fixture.

A willing ever-present, you will not find Holland complaining about the demands of professional rugby.

While Leicester head coach Matt O’Connor complains about the English Premiership schedule taking its toll on the clubs, the Munster second row is dreading even the thought of a week off.

“Hopefully not, not anytime soon, anyway,” Holland said of such a prospect.

“It is great. It’s what everyone wants to do, play every weekend. I suppose the more you play, the fitter you get, the more you’re in tune with the team and the more you play the easier it gets.

Certainly, when you are at the end of a 10-game block there before the autumn internationals the energy levels were beginning to wane, but you have a nice break then so flying it again.”

Holland scoffed at the suggestion he might be the type of player tempted to tell his coaches he could do with a bit of rest.

“You are not going to find too many of them around really. There are probably only a handful of players in the country who can afford to do that and get picked the following weekend. The rest of us mere mortals would be told, ‘good luck.’”

No player in their right mind would consider ducking out of this weekend’s trip to Welford Road as Munster look to consolidate their lead at the top of Pool 4, secured from last Saturday’s 33-10 win over Leicester at Thomond Park.

Holland is no exception, especially having been on the periphery of such occasions as a young, back-up lock during the early days of his career.

Having made his Munster debut in 2007-08, the Corkman did not get his Heineken Cup debut for three seasons and it took until 2014-15 to get into double figures in terms of European appearances, compared to 11 Champions Cup games since the start of 2016-17.

“I suppose when you have to work hard for something you do appreciate it more. I didn’t get anything easy, sitting behind Donnacha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Mick O’Driscoll, and Donncha Ryan for years.

“But you learn a huge amount off them, and I’d like to think I did learn a huge amount off them, and then when you get your opportunity it means a hell of a lot. I see guys who are 19, 20, who are in the squad and kind of peeved off at not playing a whole lot and they’ve got a cap or two, and I hadn’t even been capped at that stage. You’d kind of be laughing at them, but it does make it all the sweeter, and big days like last weekend and next Sunday in Welford Road, they’re the games you play for, and they’re the reason I stayed put and worked hard to get my position, and it does make it all the sweeter, particularly when you win.”

Holland can pinpoint the “many” times when he did consider moving on.

“It was 2013 and probably 2011 as well. In 2013 it was an English club, in 2011 there was no club. I was looking for clubs but nobody would have me!” he said, laughing.

“Every two years when your contract was up. You have to think about it. There was one stage when I came very, very close to leaving and I tossed a coin and it landed on ‘leave’. So I tossed it another 25/30 times and that itself gave me the answer I was looking for.

“Yeah, it could have worked differently. There were injuries the following year and I got a few more games. It’s stubbornness. There’s plenty of fellas. You look at Tommy O’Donnell. I was in the academy with Tommy, the same with Duncan Williams, it’s stubbornness that keeps you in there, and it makes you work harder then when you’re on the pitch. You really don’t want to let the side down.

“It means a huge amount to you.”

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