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Dublin: 2°C Monday 12 April 2021

Haley in bonus territory after Ireland debut

‘I’ve a bit of a taste for it now. Now I want to get some more.’

Haley with his son Frank post-match.
Haley with his son Frank post-match.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

MUNSTER FULLBACK MIKE Haley isn’t ready to think too far down the line, but he is hungry for more international rugby after winning his Ireland debut yesterday.

The Exiles recruit made his Test bow a year after joining the native province of his grandmother having cut his teeth with Sale Sharks. A specialist fullback, he was first tasked with slotting in as a direct replacement for fellow Munster man Andrew Conway on the wing, before shifting to his favoured position for the last of his 21 minutes on the field.

“I can actually play a number of positions,” said Haley with delight etched into his youthful features post-match.

“It’s just that every team or club I’ve been at have played me fullback. I can play on either wing and I’m happy to do that. At the end of the day I’m just happy to be on that field.”

Haley is asked when the opportunity to play for Ireland first appeared on his radar and he jokes, “bar when my grandma’s been drilling it into me?” So it’s fair to say he and those closest to him have been waiting in eager anticipation for this day.

The week and the 50-odd minutes that led up to his first run-out must have felt like the longest wait of all, but he was kept busy rounding up family to join his partner and son in the Aviva to share the moment.

“Monday morning I found out I’d be on the bench then it was preparing this that and the other… I was ringing around my family, seeing who could come over and my partner and baby were here for the game. So it was really special.

When you’re making your debut off the bench, you don’t know what circumstance it’s going to come under. It was great to get about 20 minutes, have a little run around the field after a few long weeks of hard running.

“You don’t want to be rearing to go at kick-off, because you’ll burn yourself out by the time you get on the field. You just bide your time, tick over, preparing the edges, warm up and there’s some thrill when you get your card and your name called to the edge of the pitch.”

Earning a debut at this point gives Haley hope of becoming a bolter on Ireland’s plane to Japan. Having worked through the past year to don his first cap, he’s not going to let his mind drift beyond the next target.

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Mike Haley Haley on the attack against Italy yesterday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Joe Schmidt signalled that three more names may be culled from the group early next week before the squad sets off for a warm-weather training camp in Portugal. The hope is that Joey Carbery will not be one of them after positive noises about his worrying injury in the second half of the win over Italy.

However, Carbery’s misfortune could prove beneficial to his Munster team-mate. After all, the Athy playmaker’s ability to cover fullback gave Schmidt added flexibility in his half-back options and if he is to miss out then another experienced option may be required behind Rob Kearney, while flexibility is left to other positions.

Andrew Conway and Dave Kearney are specialist wings who can cover fullback, but when Schmidt reached into the memory banks yesterday to remind us of Garry Ringrose’s fleeting experience on the wing, it signalled that space in the back three will be extremely tight. Almost as tight as the selection calls.

Haley can’t afford to consider the Rubik’s cube of options facing Schmidt. He is training his cross-hairs only on the short-term and making it to Portugal is his best platform to make a case to the coaching team.

“You’ve got to be a bit realistic about it. I’ve come into this with no caps, now I’ve one cap I can’t expect to go so far. I’ve got to be short-term-minded and short-visioned, that I’m going to do ‘this’ this week and then it re-sets on Sunday and we go again.

“That’s the mentality. I don’t want to look too far in the future, I just want to enjoy what I’m doing at the time. 

“That’s first cap out of the way. I’ve a bit of a taste for it now. Now I want to get some more.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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