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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 19 June, 2018
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'To have come here and won, we need to start believing in ourselves a bit more'

Ian Keatley hopes Munster will take huge confidence from Sunday’s win over Leicester and use it to mount a challenge for trophies this season.

Keatley celebrates Sunday's win over Leicester.
Keatley celebrates Sunday's win over Leicester.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

NO PLAYER HAS embodied Munster’s confidence and conviction as much has Ian Keatley has over the course of the last two weekends, and the out-half hopes Sunday’s momentous victory at Welford Road will give the squad further belief going forward.

Keatley followed up his influential display in round three with an equally important contribution on Sunday evening, as he kicked, passed and picked some nice lines with a great deal of assurance; generally, he pulled the strings with poise.

And then there were the 20 points from his right boot which provided the foundation for a famous Munster win, one which has the potential to act as a springboard for the rest of the province’s season.

If there was any doubt as to how much it meant to the players and Munster supporters, Keatley confirmed as much with a punch of the air as he stretched the visitors’ lead to an unassailable nine points during the closing stages of fiercely-contested Pool 4 fixture.

“I think you can see by our reaction at the end, it’s very satisfying,” he said. “It was similar last year we got a good win at home and came over here and lost narrowly so that was at the back of our mind but Johann [van Graan] was saying we were back to zero, we had to start again.

“We knew where we fell down last year and we worked on that this week. In fairness to Leicester they came at us hard and those first 20 minutes, Jesus, it was a frantic first 20 minutes, there were mistakes everywhere and then we got our composure. That was the difference there on Sunday, we kept our composure well at times and came away with the win.”

Keatley himself endured a rocky start. As Leicester came flying out of the blocks, there was no way he was going to be given an armchair ride behind the scrum. Twice in the opening minutes he fumbled possession as Ben Youngs rushed up on him — but after a reassuring smile to Peter O’Mahony, he didn’t let it get to him. A booming kick into the corner followed and then four penalties on the bounce before the break.

“Those conditions were tough, when you watch on TV and you look at it you’re like ‘what’s going on?’ but it was greasy out there and I remember, I was laughing to Pete, he said ‘its alright Keats, stay calm’ and I was like ‘it was actually a rubbish pass from Murray,’” he says, laughing.

Graham Kitchener and Ian Keatley 17/12/2017 Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“That’s what we were laughing about. In those games, it’s going to be high intensity and things aren’t going to go right. I don’t think I’ve ever played a perfect game, I don’t know anyone who has played a perfect game. Things are going to go wrong and it’s how you bounce back from it.”

And how Keatley bounced back.

He’s a joy to watch in this current form and how gratifying is it to see a player who endured a tough time of it not so long ago respond with such vigour. It must have taken huge mental strength. A true measure of the man.

“I was very happy [with my performance], bit annoyed with the one penalty I missed because I expect myself to get that but really happy with the way things are going with my placekicking,” he adds.

“In fairness to the forwards they were unbelievable tonight and we played them in the right areas and the forwards got penalties for us and that’s how we broke them down.”

But in Keatley’s world, it’s all about the team.

He explains: “We’ve showed a bit of growth and a bit of maturity. I think a lot of lads are getting experience and we’ve got that nice blend now where lads who are experienced and young lads coming in and adding their x-factor and their flair.

“We’re building nicely and we’ve put ourselves in a great position now in the group leading into this Christmas period. I think this period is the time you set up your season, you set yourself up for going for trophies. We did a really good job on Sunday and I think we just need to take confidence from that, I think we need to start believing in ourselves a bit more.

“You hear all that stuff in the media during the week, like they’ve never been beaten back to back, and that just shows how good they are here. So for us to come here and beat them, and that’s what I was saying we need to take good confidence from that. We’re coming over here and beating teams like that. I know there were times there when we went down to 14 men but for me personally, I never felt we lost control of the game. For us, we’re still doing the right things in the right areas and we need to take confidence from that.”

There’s no let-up, either. Leinster, Ulster and Connacht all come in quick succession over the Christmas period, during which van Graan will have to shuffle his pack and manage the players as the games come thick and fast.

“It sets us up nicely but we’re going to park this [Champions Cup] for now and concentrate on the three inter-pros coming up,” Keatley says.

Conor Murray celebrates at the final whistle 17/12/2017 Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“What is it, like three games in 11 days so I’d say most of the teams will chop and change. After Europe two weeks in a row you go into inter-pros which are just like European games. There’s an intensity around them Leinster. We’re looking forward to a quiet Christmas!”

It will be a real test of squad depth.

“I was in awe of Kevin O’Byrne’s throwing on Sunday, it was incredible. Even Alex Wootton in the air and his work-rate is unbelievable. Myself, Scans [Rory Scannell] and Sammy [Arnold] had great chats during the week and it gave him great confidence. Physically and skills wise he’s up there and he just needs that experience and it’s great experience for him and he’s going to keep building.

“When we have all the lads back there’s going to be some competition in the backs and that’s what we’ve built now. Scans [Niall] only came back, Rhys played unbelievable last week but he was injured and then Kevin O’Byrne to come in like that; we’re building a great squad.”

But the key is to retain players? CJ Stander is next on the IRFU’s wish-list following the huge boost which Peter O’Mahony’s new contract brought to everyone concerned.

“Yeah, it’s great,” he said of his captain staying. “Zeebs has been giving him a bit of jip all week about taking all the money from the other players but it’s great because if we want to go on and win stuff we need to keep our top players.

“It’s unfortunate that we lost Zeebs but players can understand his decision. It’s great that we’ve kept Pete and hopefully we keep CJ and a few other lads will be signing soon.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Ryan Bailey

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