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'When Munster come calling, how do you say no?' - Haley happy in Limerick

The 24-year-old fullback has settled in well since his move from Sale Sharks during the summer.

MIKE HALEY HAS only been with Munster since June but he’s already become an influencer within the squad.

He arrived in Ireland without a car and decided to buy a motorised scooter from Amazon to give himself some independence as he bunked in with team-mates before finding his own place.

Mike Haley Haley is settling in well with Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The scooter proved to be popular and several of the Munster squad decided they needed to get in on the action – Conor Murray and Joey Carbery among them – meaning there is now a ‘scooter gang’ of five or six players bombing into training at UL every day.

Haley has settled in well on the pitch too, quickly establishing himself at fullback under head coach Johann van Graan.

The 24-year-old moved to Munster from Sale Sharks after making more than 100 appearances for the Premiership club but his signing was perhaps slightly under-the-radar. 

A native of Preston, less than an hour’s drive north of Manchester, Sale was his “home club” but Haley’s head was turned when the Irish province got in touch last season.

“When Munster come calling, how do you say no?” is how he puts it.

Haley is Irish-qualified and was part of Joe Schmidt’s most recent training camp in August, underlining that the Ireland coach was pleased with Munster bringing him in over the summer.

Haley’s qualifying connection is his Tralee-born grandmother, Vivienne, whose cottage in nearby Fenit was a regular family holiday destination in his youth.

“We’d fill the Land Rover with four sisters, a brother, a dog, and my parents, and we’d go and stay there,” recalls Haley.

Mike Haley Haley on the ball against Exeter. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I learned to sail down there in Fenit Bay and I don’t know if you’ll believe this or not, but we once got called in because there was a basking shark that had swum in there. I remember that because it was the last time I went sailing and I haven’t been since!” 

Haley has second cousins in Tralee too, and though he played in an England jersey as recently as last year, his Irish connections were always in the back of his mind.

“My grandmother was screaming at me all the time, so yes, it was always there!”

Haley trained with England under Eddie Jones in May 2016, then played for the England Saxons on their summer tour of South Africa that year – although those games did not tie him to England as South Africa A weren’t the SARU’s official second team.

Haley played for an England XV against the Barbarians in the summer of 2017, but that also left him eligible for Ireland as BaaBaas games don’t capture players. 

With Haley’s involvement under Jones having stalled after that England XV appearance, the interest from Munster proved impossible to resist.

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The fullback says “it’s definitely fair” to suggest that the possibility of wearing the green jersey played a part in his decision to join Munster, but stresses that “it’s something obviously I can’t focus on right now, I have to focus on being in the [Munster] team week to week, and then whatever happens happens.”

HIs involvement under Schmidt when a large squad of almost 50 players gathered in August was welcome, but Haley isn’t getting carried away.

Mike Haley and Tyler Bleyendaal Haley and Tyler Bleyendaal at Munster training. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It was good fun,” he says. “Obviously, it was tough work and your first one, you want to make an impression. As far as I know, I did that but as I said, my main objective is to start for Munster and to do well for Munster. Everything else takes care of itself.”

Haley knew fellow England natives Alex Wootton and Sammy Arnold from “back in the day” and previously played with Ciaran Parker at Sale, so he had some familiar faces while settling into Munster.

Haley had played plenty of Champions Cup rugby for Sale before his move, although the occasion around his European debut for Munster, last weekend’s draw in Exeter, felt a little bit special.

“Exeter is a formidable ground to go to,” says Haley. “I have never turned up there and had the support that we had.

“Getting off the coach, I had the headphones on and the fans were singing down your ear, and it was fantastic. You definitely feed off that when you are on the pitch and you get a small win or a penalty here or there.”

His father, Tim, is due to travel to Limerick for Saturday’s round two clash with Gloucester, another team Haley is very familiar with, while the cousins from Tralee might make it up too.

A home European debut and a victory for Munster would help Haley to feel even more at home with his new province.

“I think everyone is exactly where I thought they would be. Joey Carbery is a fantastic player, the addition of Tadhg [Beirne] is fantastic and obviously, they had the heroes here already, O’Mahony, Keith [Earls], Conway, obviously fantastic players, and the Scannell brothers, playing fantastic too.

“It was more a fact that when I turned up here, I had to prove myself to them. That is still an ongoing thing.”

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Murray Kinsella

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