Stubborn streak that earned Holland 200 caps

Billy Holland will make his 200th appearance for Munster when he lines out against Connacht in Saturday’s crucial Guinness PRO14 game at the Galway Sportsground.

Stubborn streak that earned Holland 200 caps

Billy Holland will make his 200th appearance for Munster when he lines out against Connacht in Saturday’s crucial Guinness PRO14 game at the Galway Sportsground.

His first cap came in 2007 and in the intervening years the 33-year-old has gained an enviable reputation as an ultra reliable and committed player, equally at home in the second and third rows of the scrum at the highest level of the game.

“Yeah, I’m getting younger with age, the body is good and the head is good,” says Holland, who learned his trade at CBC and Cork Constitution while representing his country at schools, 19s, 21s, Emerging Ireland and senior levels.

It’s a distinguished record and judging by the positive manner in which he spoke this week, the versatile and committed 6 ft 3 inch, 17 stone 6 lbs Corkman sees no good reason why it shouldn’t be further enhanced.

“Two hundred is a lot of games for Munster, isn’t it, and I remember the first. It was against Scarlets – or Llanelli as they were then – at Musgrave Park.

"We played Dragons the following week and Axel (the late Anthony Foley) was captain for those games. We won both. I played 6 and he was 8.

"I can also remember my 100th cap, it was against Connacht in Galway and we lost. I played in the second-row that day with Paulie (O’Connell) ... we went 14 points up in shocking conditions but they came back and beat us.

It was intimidating at the start, playing with people like Axel, Paulie, Rog (Ronan O’Gara) but it was also brilliant and a dream come true to get to train with them and do a full pre-season with them.

"They had been over to Chicago that summer and John O’Sullivan did his cruciate. The first competitive game was the following week and I was straight in at the deep end.

“No, it didn’t continue like that for me. I was two caps, four caps, eight caps, I’d play during the Six Nations and the Autumn internationals.

"Paulie, Donncha (O’Callaghan), Micko (O’Driscoll), Donnacha (Ryan) were all ahead of me.

"I played a lot in the back-row at the start but there you had Wally (David Wallace), Quinny (Alan Quinlan), James Coughlan, Denis Leamy ... there was incredible competition.”

Nevertheless, there were great occasions – not least the never-to-be-forgotten game against the All Blacks in 2008 when he and his underestimated teammates only relented in the face of the New Zealand onslaught in the dying minutes.

“I suppose it’s a dream at the start when you’re wearing the red jersey and playing for Munster and training with your heroes but I wasn’t getting the same amount of game-time as I wanted.

"It was around 2011, 2012, and I was very close to going to a club in the UK. On the night before I had to decide, I decided to toss a coin and it came to go to the UK.

"So I tossed it another 49 times and I think it ended up 26-24 in favour of Munster!

“But seriously, there were other reasons for staying, like my family were all in Cork and my now-wife was in Ireland. And I wasn’t ready to go until I had achieved a lot of my targets with Munster.

"There was that dark December and we lost five in a row and didn’t get a bonus point in any of them.

"We were about to set a record for the most losses ever and then we beat Ulster and I got to play for the next couple of years or so.

“You have young fellows here now of 19 and 20 who get a bit down with only one or two caps but I was 22 when I got my first and it has taken me something like 11 years to get these 200 caps.

"I had patience, stubbornness, determination and I worked hard.”

He keeps proving that point to such an extent he is either still in the starting team or on the bench for Munster’s most important matches and was there again at the end of Saturday’s rip-roaring encounter against Leinster.

Another Christians Cork man even more central to the stories emanating from the game was referee Frank Murphy, who captained the UCC team in Holland’s first senior club game as an 18-year-old against Malone in Belfast.

“An Interpro is always a hard game for a referee. This was was a tough game with a lot of spice and I thought he handled it well,” said Holland.

“There was a lot of spice in it and much of what happened was unlike Leinster, who had only one yellow card all season up to then.

“There was no intent in the red card, but it happened and that’s the way the game is today.”

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