Earning a place in the team on the biggest days of all is the ambition of every member of the Munster squad. But when you ply your trade in the centre, that becomes a very difficult ambition to achieve. So when Dan Goggin got the nod from Johann van Graan for the away game against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in October, following up with starts against Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester in the European Cup, the Young Munster man’s confidence rocketed sky high.
To impress his head coach to such a degree told him that he must be doing a lot of things right and that his career was headed very much in the right direction. And then, in the 80th minute of the Gloucester game, a dodgy knee that had let him down on previous occasions struck again.
Goggin’s return to fitness a couple of weeks ago coincided with that of Jaco Taute and at a time when Rory Scannell and Sammy Arnold were still flying, Chris Farrell was ready to resume and Tyler Bleyendaal was suggesting that he could be a serious option in the middle of the park. So when van Graan again knocked on Goggin’s door for last week’s clash with Leinster, his sense of belonging in illustrious company was fully restored.
“There is nothing better than playing in front of a sell-out crowd at Thomond Park with the atmosphere blowing like that, so it was thoroughly enjoyable. I felt the nerves a lot more than usual coming back into that match. I was a little bit surprised to be given the chance to go straight back in against Leinster because it was such a big game. I think we fell on the right side of some decisions. Joey was on the money with the boot.”
The 24-year-old Goggin now turns his attention to the latest ‘derby’, against Connacht on Saturday.
“I didn’t get to play last year against Connacht up there because of the injury but I played the year before and we won,” he recalls. “It must have been one of the worst in terms of weather that I have ever played in.
“I think we’re three points ahead of them at the moment in the Conference and if we win we can go seven or eight clear. But if we don’t they will go ahead of us so it’s a hugely important game.
“It’s just up to us how will we manage it because we know they are a form side. They were very unlucky not to get the win away to Leinster and they were in super form against Ulster.
“Tom Farrell is the top off-loader in the league so far with 16 or 17 and that’s unbelievable. I’ve played against him.
“Their attacking platform is second to none and it’s up to us how well we manage that in defence. We will be watching for the key players, they have speed on the outside, strength in the middle, and then they have Jack Carty pulling strings all over the place.”
Munster supporters have become frustrated this season at the failure of the side to turn what has generally been adequate possession into tries.
“Yes, it can be frustrating but at the same time, we will take a try whenever it comes from,” Goggin says. “One of the tries last week against Leinster, we put Rory Scannell and myself into the line-out and mauled it over with the forwards so we will take a bit of ownership of that as well.”
Given Goggin’s love affair with Thomond Park, where he has shone with both St Munchin’s and his club Young Munster, the win over Leinster will live long in his memory.
“I grew up a two-minute walk from Thomond Park, I went to St Munchin’s to get better experience in rugby under the watchful eye of John Broderick, so it was always my dream to play for Munster coming up along the ranks.
“I don’t mind what players come in to the club or who I’m up against and without the competition in the centre at the moment, I don’t think I would be doing so well. We bring the best out of each other.
“It was a massive confidence-boost for Johann to pick me for that game against Leinster in the Aviva. He tells me he backs me and it’s up to me after that. I train well during the week and he gives me an opportunity and I know that I have to take it.”