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Friendly rivalry with Cronin pushing Kilcoyne to next level

The Munster loosehead is enjoying the experience of being part of a young, ambitious squad.

Kilcoyne had to bide his time before getting a chance with Munster.
Kilcoyne had to bide his time before getting a chance with Munster.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

DAVE KILCOYNE SPENT an important part of 2007 with a Munster Under 20s squad that also included Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer, John Ryan, Ian Nagle, Dave Foley and, at one stage, Conor Murray – above his natural age grade.

After a couple of years with the province’s sub-academy, while moonlighting as a bouncer in Limerick, the loosehead prop was inducted into the academy proper in 2010 alongside Simon Zebo, Cathal Sheridan, JJ Hanrahan, Ronan O’Mahony and Luke O’Dea.

His club rugby with UL Bohemians saw him playing alongside Tommy O’Donnell under the tutelage of current Munster skills coach Ian Costello. The point is that the southern province’s squad now has an underlying core of men Kilcoyne developed with, making it a place where he is now a leader of the culture rather than an occasional contributor.

While that presents obvious advantages, the 25-year-old also points out that it adds an onus too.

It does make it more enjoyable, but it’s also an added sense of responsibility. I suppose if you look at Munster down through the years, the pack would have been the lifeblood of Munster rugby. So you’ve huge tradition and position to fulfill. It’s up to all of us to do that.

“Having a young squad is good, but it comes with a sense of responsibility.”

Kilcoyne is proud of the manner in which the next generation is taking control and proving themselves as able replacements for the legends who have moved on. He cites the example of the readiness of two inexperienced hookers should Damian Varley fail to recover his fitness to take his place against Gloucester this weekend.

“You saw how well Duncan Casey stepped up [against Ulster], like he has been all season. You’ve Niall Scannell and you’ve other lads coming through. I think there is huge strength in depth across the park in Munster rugby at the moment. It’s just a credit to the coaching staff for blooding so many young players.

imageKilcoyne and Hanrahan were brought into the academy at the same time. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.

“You’ve a ready availability of players to step up, so I think Niall and Duncan are going to do that if they’re called upon.”

Another player Kilcoyne is very familiar with is his direct opponent for a place in Munster’s starting line-up; James Cronin. The 23-year-old’s impressive breakthrough season has surprised many in Irish rugby circles, but not Kilcoyne.

“We would have known each other the whole way up. I suppose we would have played ‘A’ together and I would have come up against him in the AIL [All-Ireland League]. James is there and competition only makes the squad stronger.

It’s probably helped my game a bit as well, because there’s somebody pushing you on, which is what you need.”

The former Ardscoil Rís prop says the level of competition that continues to grow between himself and Cronin has not affected their personal relationship. Kilcoyne points out that the Munster front row’s mentality of working as a ‘unit’ means it will never become an issue.

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“Me and Jimmy get on very well. I think if you look right across our front row, you’ve Sherry – who’s injured at the moment – Varls, Duncan, Archer, BJ; I think we’re always trying to help each other. We look at it as a unit, whatever team takes the pitch on a given day, it’s for the greater good of the team.

imageMunster’s competition in the front row is an advantage according to Kilcoyne. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.

“Whoever is called upon just has to deliver the goods. I suppose that added competition adds extra pressure, which is needed in this environment.”

The next challenge for that band of front row brothers is a trip to Kingsholm to face Gloucester in the Heineken Cup, and there is certainly an element of pressure. Much will be made of the fact that Nigel Davies’ side were on the receiving end of 29-8 defeat to Saracens last weekend, but Kilcoyne says that result will have no bearing on Saturday’s European encounter.

“I wouldn’t read into the loss they had to Saracens. A team like that take massive pride in themselves, especially at home. Even reading a couple of quotes from Jimmy Cowan, they’re gunning for this game. They don’t want to be beaten twice, and especially at home, so it adds that extra bit of spice.”

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Murray Kinsella

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