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'Munster when you're growing up is 'the team' ... I probably put myself under a bit of pressure'

Mike Haley feels the best is yet to come after struggling to adjust to his new surroundings last season.

Mike Haley during Munster training.
Mike Haley during Munster training.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

NO PLAYER PLAYED more minutes for Munster than Mike Haley last season, but the full-back has mixed feelings when he looks back on his debut year in red. 

A total of 1,956 minutes, including 26 starts, indicates Haley was obviously doing something right in the eyes of his coaches, but the player didn’t feel he was getting the best out of himself. 

Born in Preston but Irish eligible via his maternal grandmother, who comes from Tralee, Haley arrived from Sale Sharks with over 100 Premiership appearances under his belt, but reflecting on the early stages of the move the 25-year-old admits he initially found it tough to adjust to his new surroundings. 

A year on, life in Limerick feels more comfortable. The arrival of his first son, Frank, in January, has ensured there is plenty to keep him occupied off the pitch, while on it, the additions of Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree have moved the team towards a style of play he feels better suited to.   

“I really enjoyed my first season at Munster but I think it probably took me a little bit longer to actually settle down,” Haley says.  

“Whether that was for a few personal reasons or whatever was going on in the background, just to get myself comfortable. A year on, I’m absolutely loving life here. My family is all settled, I’ve got my little boy now here, who is a Limerick lad, and I feel like I’m starting to play some good rugby and that was the aim I wanted initially.”  

Part of that was down to the pressure that comes with playing for the province. Few clubs take more pride in their history than Munster, a fact that wasn’t lost on Haley. 

“You’re turning up at Munster, and Munster when you’re growing up is ‘the team’, it’s one of the biggest teams in Europe and the world, and I probably did put myself under a little bit of pressure for whatever reason,” he admits.

“I feel like now, or probably actually post-Christmas last season, I actually settled down way more, was enjoying my rugby, was getting into the flow of things, and that has carried on this season. It’s been great fun playing this year.” 

While still in the early stages of the new season, Munster are already beginning to show signs of development as a result of the work being done by Larkham and Rowntree. 

mike-haley Haley speaks to the press earlier this week. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Haley himself has been at the heart of much of that. Munster’s Heineken Champions Cup opponents on Saturday, Ospreys, won’t need to be reminded of the wonderful try he scored against the Welsh side when the teams met in the Guinness Pro14 last month. Munster’s new approach encourages players like Haley to get the ball in their hands more often, which is music to any young play-maker’s ears. 

Having scored five tries in his first campaign, he’s already dotted down twice in five games this season. 

“I think if you looked at how I played when I played with Sale, that was something I was doing quite a lot. I think I actually lost that a little bit last season for whatever reason. But I’ve kind of set myself my own challenges this year, and one of them is to be more hungry, look for the ball, make sure I’m getting my hands on the ball, because I want to make sure I’m doing the right things and first thing first is putting the team first, then if I slot into what I need to do in that, that’s perfect. 

“But yeah, they way we are playing rugby at the moment, it’s great fun to be a part of. 

“I think the great thing is that Munster attract some of the best coaches in the world, and they’ve shown that with Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree coming in, and at the moment I’m just feeding off that. Obviously Stephen Larkham was a fantastic player, achieved a lot, played full-back as well, so I ask a number of questions of him just to see what he was thinking, what his thoughts were, kind of quiz him a little bit and just try to learn as much as I can off somebody like that.” 

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It promises to be another big season for Munster, as they look to improve on last season’s return of semi-final exits in both the Pro14 and Champions Cup.  

There is also the added incentive of pushing for a place in the Ireland camp, as new head coach Andy Farrell begins the transition from the Joe Schmidt era. During the summer, Haley spent the guts of two months in Ireland’s World Cup training camp, and won his first cap in the warm-up game against Italy. 

It was an experience he is looking to use to his advantage in the coming months, with the next Ireland training camp inching closer. 

“I need to make sure I’m in the [Munster] 15 every week, and to be honest though it’s not really in my thoughts. You know it is coming up but there is nothing you can do about it. It’s something that is just there. What I want to do is just make sure I’m consistently playing well for Munster. We want to be competing at the highest level on both fronts, that’s Europe and the Pro14, and Europe starts with Ospreys away on Saturday.” 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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