Sean McMahon reporting from the Aviva Stadium
Mike Haley became the latest player to win his first senior international cap with Ireland after the Munster fullback came off the bench with 20 minutes to go in Ireland’s 29-10 victory over Italy.
Haley was the second of two new caps this afternoon after Jean Kleyn put in a solid performance from the off.
Representing Ireland has been on Haley’s radar for some time now with Joe Schmidt having long kept tabs on the former Sale Sharks fullback.
Today signals the end of a long journey for Haley but excitingly for the 25-year-old, it’s also the beginning of what he will hope to be a long distinguished career in green.
“Monday morning I found out I’d be on the bench, then it was preparing this, that and the other,” Haley told the media in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium after today’s game.
“It’s very special to be able to make your debut. I was ringing around my family, seeing who could come over. My partner and baby were here for the game. So it was really special.”
Much of the narrative surrounding the opening warm-up game against Italy was that some of the players involved would be playing for their continued involvement in the Ireland squad.
Schmidt and his staff are expected to release a few more players from the squad ahead of their departure to Portugal next Wednesday for a warm-weather training camp.
Understandably, this pressure could lead to players trying too hard to impress but Haley insists that it’s all about fitting into the system.
“It’s a team game and Ireland’s one of the best teams in the world. It would be more detrimental to myself if I was to go out trying some individual genius.
“Whereas if I slot into what the team does and the team philosophy, that will be better for me. That was the key to it. I didn’t want to over-do anything. I just wanted to go out and be myself.”
“Coming off the bench you want to make sure everything you do is for the betterment of the team.
“You just gotta do what you can do. (Players being released) is up to the coaches.”
Haley is under no illusions as to where he is in the overall pecking order. He only made his first appearance in green today and as such, his thinking is very much short-term.
If he’s involved next week, then next week will be his focus. There’s no point in thinking any further than that.
“You’ve got to be a bit realistic about it. I’ve come into this with no caps, now I have 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 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.”
Although he’s not thinking too far ahead, Haley has a taste of international rugby now and he will be keen to feature more in a green jersey.
“That’s the first cap out of the way. I have a bit of a taste for it now, I want to get some more.”