ALAN Quinlan was back in his natural habitat for the past couple of days.
Having cajoled his Munster colleagues to hold their post-November camp at Ballykisteen Hotel and Golf resort near Limerick Junction just a few hundred yards down the road from where he was born, he was always going to enjoy the occasion. While there was the usual banter, this was serious business and seems to have worked extremely well.
With fellow-Tipperary man Denis Leamy laid low by an ankle injury, Quinlan’s influence is sure to be even more important as the team heads into vital games in the Magners League against the Ospreys at Liberty Stadium on Saturday and the back-to-back Heineken Cup matches against Perpignan over the following two weekends.
Now that he has passed his 35th birthday, Quinlan recognises that he must take every chance that comes his way. He is typically confident and upbeat about the next few months and doesn’t even rule out a return to international action, having been completely passed over for all the activity during November.
“We have a few big weeks coming up and it’s great to have the internationals back with a positive mindset,” he says.
“History has shown when they have come back into the group on a bit of a buzz, they’ve brought those performances with them to Munster. I said after the game against Ulster that maybe the best thing that could happen was to get a break.
“Those guys are our leaders, they’re the best players in the team and that’s why they’re on the Irish team. So having them match fit and playing well is great because the team plays well when they play well. Now the rest of us have to ensure that our performances step up and when that happens, we get to the levels we know we’re capable of.”
Munster and Leinster now face the annual problem of trying to get back to where they were before the November series of Test matches. It’s not easy but it’s something they have to get on with. After all these years, Quinlan and his team-mates know only too well what is required.
“It can be difficult but it’s better than when the guys came back after the Lions tour for the first game against Leinster because they hadn’t played any matches,” he pointed out. “You had the disruption of the team not being together and the lack of match practice, but at least there’s match practice in there now, high intensity stuff that all the guys have had and you could see the level of performance of players on Saturday.
“Paul (O’Connell) probably had his best game of the season, Wally was super, Donners, John Hayes, Tomás O’Leary, they all stepped up to the plate. It was great to see Jerry (Flannery) back as well because his season has been disrupted so far and that can be only good for Munster.
“When you win matches and get a big scalp against a team like South Africa, it gives you a massive boost. It makes all the hard work worthwhile and that boost it gives you is certainly better than where we were prior to the autumn internationals. We were kind of stuck in a rut and struggling a little bit. There’s no guarantee that we’re going to come out of that rut and start playing great at the weekend but at least the guys have good games under their belts and hopefully we can improve. We’ve had two good days here and a lot of good work has been done, a lot of issues addressed, the way we want to play and what we need to do to get that performance back.”
And then, he ruefully added: “I picked up a dose of the swine flu for a few weeks and that laid me back.
And Alan’s hopes of playing for Ireland again?
“You never know, stranger things have happened over the years,” he mused. “At this stage, it’s only going to be a massive loss of form from the guys who are ahead and that’s highly unlikely because they’re all at the top of their game. I just have to make sure I improve my performance with Munster and worry about my game.
“That’s my main focus. But if I got the opportunity to play for Ireland, I’d be delighted. The last month was one of disappointment and envy. My international career has been frustrating, a lot of highs and lows, but I still have that ambition. I’m envious of the lads heading up to camp. It’s a great feeling to be part of playing for your country and I’ve done that 28 times.
“Even though I treasure every cap I’ve got, I still feel envious I haven’t had the success the lads have had. It was a different November, I just have to adapt and that’s why it’s important I focus in with Munster. We are lucky to have these matches and I suppose that’s why the majority of us have stayed with Munster over the years. There’s always temptation because of our success from other clubs but we’re together because we’re challenging every year.
“We’ve had a lot of heartbreak but success as well. You hear soccer players in England talk about winning leagues and European Cups. We’re no different as professionals and that’s one of our strengths, the ambition is there. It’s a great tonic to be able to play for Munster.”
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