Fullback Haley happy in Munster and hopes to push back into Ireland contention

The 26-year-old former Sale man earned his Test debut last year against Italy.

IT WAS NOTICEABLE last season how Mike Haley was increasingly stepping up as a first receiver for Munster, seemingly attempting to take some pressure off the out-half and be more of a playmaker for the province.

The fullback as a second playmaker is very much a trend in the game and it seemed clear that Munster were encouraging Haley to take on more responsibility, but the man himself says he was simply getting back to doing more of what that has long been part of his game.

“That was something I used to do a lot when I was at Sale and I don’t know why I went away from it in my first year here,” said Haley ahead of tomorrow’s Guinness Pro14 opener away to the Scarlets in Wales [KO 3pm, eir Sport/TG4].

mike-haley Haley is feeling happy and at home with Munster. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“But definitely coming into my second year I was like, ‘This is something I need to do, something that can help the team.’

“I enjoy doing that, I enjoy getting my hands on the ball and it’s something I want to do even more if possible. Not pushing JJ or whoever’s at 10 out the way, obviously, but when it’s there and available, do what I used to do and enjoy it.”

26-year-old Haley is feeling firmly at home in Munster as he heads into his third season with the province since joining from Premiership side Sale, where he had played more than 100 times.

He says his partner Lucy and young son, Frank, are enjoying life in Limerick.

“We’ve got a lovely place over here and loving life with my little one, he’s just a menace at the moment flying around the house, especially during lockdown.

“It’s been great, got a lot of good friends here, and settled in massively now. I think the lockdown period actually makes you appreciate where you are in Ireland, when there’s a lot of staycations and stuff like that you get to travel around a little bit more and experience the country.

“So that’s been great and then on the field, just finding I’m very comfortable… well not comfortable but I’m comfortable in the system and which is making me feel like I’m flourishing.

“I love working with Steve [Larkham], I think he’s a fantastic coach and he really helps me push to be better each week and coming into this third season, just really confident.”

munsters-mike-haley-after-the-match Haley has been Munster's first-choice fullback for two seasons. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Not being able to play rugby for months due to Covid-19 was frustrating initially, but Haley loved that period from a family point of view.

“It’s actually quite a cherished time, six months that I probably would have never had, being permanently with my little lad and partner. You actually start doing other things around the house and exploring other avenues outside of rugby.

“At the same time, you’re wanting to get back and wanting to get going again. So it’s very mixed but it has been enjoyable, especially personally. In that time, my little lad has started walking and started babbling away now and I’m actually seeing that being at home, which is really nice.”

Having picked up a calf injury during the summer, Haley missed the restart of rugby with Munster in August and had to watch Shane Daly impress in the number 15 shirt, while Matt Gallagher has come in from Saracens to add more competition.

But Haley is fit again and returned in last weekend’s pre-season win over Connacht, leaving ready to launch into this 2020/21 campaign in an excited and ambitious mood.

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Irish-qualified through his Tralee-born grandmother, the possibility of an international career with Ireland was one of the things that attracted Haley to his move to Munster, and he won his first cap last year in the pre-World Cup friendly against Italy.

Having missed out on the cut for the trip to Japan and not featured for Ireland since, Haley will be looking to make up ground in that regard too.

“I did the entire pre-World Cup camp, played that game and then you fall short. I feel it almost gives you more of an ambition to get back to where you were.

mike-haley-with-his-son-frank-after-the-game Haley with his son, Frank, after his Ireland debut. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I thought I was playing some really good rugby last year and then had a few issues and niggles I was carrying and that probably contributed to me not actually performing as well I could do.

“But the body now is feeling fantastic and raring to go, and there is that target of I know what it’s like to be there, I want to be there and I want to be in that environment.

“But that comes from me playing well every weekend for Munster and getting in the starting team for Munster. So it’s an end goal, one I want to get to, but there are steps along the way I need to tick off.”

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey discuss the provinces’ 2020/21 starts, the South African-infused Pro16, and the schools-versus-clubs dynamic in Ireland

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Murray Kinsella

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