At Home with Munster
By John Keogh
Munster’s move into a new high-performance centre at University of Limerick is already starting to pay dividends. After a few challenging years in Europe, they are back among the elite and flying high.
Andrew Conway has played a huge role in this revival. The former Blackrock College man moved to Munster in the summer of 2013 and is making hay after a couple of injury-ravaged seasons.
Conway is fulsome in his praise of the new facility. “It’s incredible,” he says. “I don’t think it can be overstated about how big a difference it has made.
“The lads never knew anything different than travelling, whether it was Limerick to Cork or Cork to Limerick, once or twice a week. You were cutting down the training time you had together and the time you had together as a squad was so little when compared to other professional teams.
“I think it was the only professional sports team in the world that didn’t have one proper training base.”
When things were going relatively well with Leinster, I just had something in my gut, I don’t know what it was but it was pushing me towards here.
“A few things have fallen into place and other things have aligned but it is a huge, huge part of how we have gone this year and, hopefully, how we can continue to go.”
The move to Munster came as a bit of a surprise to most, as Conway was highly regarded at Leinster. He says it had been on the cards from the moment he left school, however.
“It was probably a long time coming really, as I was always a Munster fan,” he admits. “We went across to Cardiff for a few of the Heineken Cup finals and I always had a bit of a soft spot for them.”
“Not many people know this but when I left Blackrock, there was potential for me coming to Munster at that point but I decided to stay with the Leinster academy and work my way up through there.
“When things were going relatively well with Leinster, I just had something in my gut, I don’t know what it was but it was pushing me towards here.
“I actually got onto my agent to see if we could make the move, to see if it would be possible. When Munster were keen, I wouldn’t say it was an easy decision but it was a decision I was delighted with,” he notes.
That decision has proved to be a shrewd one. The move to Limerick has been relatively smooth and while there may be a lot going on in Dublin, the quieter city suits the professional athlete’s life more, he feels.
The new training base at UL is helping Munster on the field and Conway is quick to point out that despite the college being an extremely busy place, it is not distracting.
“You kind of notice the students less now because, before, we were in the gym just above them, so you would be knocking around and seeing all the classes going on.
“But now, we are pretty much segregated with our own full building, which is brilliant. We don’t have to go anywhere for meetings, the pitch is right here, our changings rooms are right here, the gym is in between, so we don’t stray too far from it because we have everything at our feet.”
Conway’s superb form for Munster this season was recognised with a call-up to Ireland’s Six Nations squad. He made his international debut in their 13-9 victory over England in the final game of the tournament. His first Irish cap was the culmination of a lot of hard work, which Conway describes as a “dream come true”.
We don’t have to go anywhere for meetings, the pitch is right here, our changings rooms are right here, the gym is in between, so we don’t stray too far from it because we have everything at our feet.
Despite his increasing profile in the world of rugby, Conway enjoys the quiet life. He lives in Castleconnell, just 10 minutes from the university and the potential distraction of social media is not something that occupies his time, although he does admit to putting a few pictures of himself and his dog up on Instagram.
“My life is relatively boring these days. My Leaving Cert wasn’t the best but I’m trying to make up for that now by being an avid reader. Not of anything educational, more just diff erent types of books.
“I find myself on the couch at home with my Kindle as opposed to the TV and despite what I tell the lads, they don’t believe me, it’s true.”
The new high-performance centre has a state-of-the-art gym, treatment room and a 65-seat auditorium but Conway’s favourite place inside the facility is something a lot simpler.
“There is a little room with two bunk beds. It’s actually unreal because we work really hard Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and it is tough going, especially if you are recovering from a game on Saturday.
“We are told that any extra bit of recovery time you can get is giving you an edge and to have somewhere where you can put the head down for half an hour and chill out – I doubt there are many places like it in the country,” he concludes.