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'I'm a father, I'm a husband, then I'm a rugby player' - Munster's Earls

The Ireland international wing has learned to be part of a new Munster modus operandi.

THIS SEASON, MUNSTER have made a conscious decision to detach themselves from the province’s past.

The previous European successes of 2006 and 2008 will always be a benchmark and the legends who earned that status won’t be forgotten, but this Munster crop have been keen to shed the burden of bygone times.

Keith Earls Keith Earls is having one of the best seasons of his career. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Hooker Niall Scannell spoke about this theme after the Champions Cup quarter-final win over Toulouse, remarking that this Munster squad are aiming to create their own legacy.

They have achieved nothing yet, but this season feels like real progress more than before, as new leaders – several of whom haven’t been in a semi-final before – have emerged and helped Munster into the last four of the Champions Cup, where they meet Saracens in Dublin this weekend.

“There’s not too many players left over from that era,” said Scannell of the former glories. “And even guys like Keith Earls have just bought in so much to doing it our way. It’s great to see guys like that, who it’s tougher for them because they’re crossing a generation.”

It’s an interesting point from Scannell that a player like Keith Earls, who was on the Munster bench for the 2008 Heineken Cup final, has had perhaps the toughest job of all fitting into this new group.

He is, of course, a leader in the Munster squad but when you put Scannell’s point to him, the Ireland international says that the revitalisation has actually been of major benefit to him.

“If anything they [the younger players] have helped me,” said Earls this week. “I thought I probably had to be like the older lads. I suppose when I came into the group first, I was young for a couple of years.

“I broke through in 2007/08 and Conor [Murray] and [Mike] Sherry and the boys only broke through in 2011. I had to be in a squad with men that were having kids for a couple of years and I got mature quite early, at a young age.

“I learned a lot off the ROGs and the Paulies and the Dougies, but the lads who have come in have brought me back down to my age nearly and I’m a lot more relaxed and I’m enjoying it.

Keith Earls Earls is happy to be part of a relaxed Munster group. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“The younger lads still need a kick up the arse every now and then, but they still have to drive standards every now and then because they are a different breed.”

The atmosphere around Munster’s high performance centre in UL is certainly a relaxed one these days and the players constantly talk about how much they have enjoyed Rassie Erasmus’ philosophy of accepting errors, learning from them, but moving swiftly on.

The weight has been lifted from Munster’s shoulders. They are energetic, positive and open-minded. It’s certainly a different environment to what pervaded back in 2006 and 2008, when the tough, hard Munstermen of that era dominated.

“They’re still tough, hard men now, but they know how to switch off,” explained Earls. “Even before going into a meeting, someone can be running off, then we get in here and they’re switched on. It’s a lot more relaxing.

“I don’t know how to describe it; fellas aren’t on edge 24/7, probably on edge when we’re in the centre, and when we’re on the field we still kill each other, when we’re in meetings we’ll have a go off each other – but in general it’s a good balance we have.

“It’s definitely a lot more mellow from ten years ago. They were made of hard stuff years ago – different stuff, should I say.”

Different stuff – there’s the real point. The same approach does not bring the same results for every group.

Munster in recent years have been too concerned with living up to the standards, habits, attitudes and results of a bygone era.

Now, they have finally realised that setting their own standards, habits and attitudes can bring their own positive results.

Keith Earls celebrates with his dautgher Ella May Earls with his daughter, Ella May. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Whether the new way of doing things can bring the same European trophy that Munster earned in 2006 and 2008 remains to be seen, but there has been a shift and all in Limerick are entirely comfortable with it, even the 29-year-old old man Earls.

The transformation of his individual mindset around rugby has paired perfectly with what has been happening in Munster. Earls, in the last year and a half, has realised that there is much more to life than his sport.

He has loosened up, without ever shirking the hard work that helps him to perform, and the Limerick man is enjoying his career more than ever as a result.

“I suppose with the amount of rugby I’d played, I had to adapt my training, gym-wise, and adapt as a man, becoming a father,” said Earls.

“I’m loving every minute of everything at the moment. I’ve definitely found a good balance in my life, whereas years ago it would have been all rugby, but now I’m gone more to the other side.

“I’m a father, I’m a husband, then I’m a rugby player – that’s something I’ve picked up in the last 18 months.”

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