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Friday 18 August 2017

Toner's turning to clean page for Leinster

Second-row sees Connacht clash as ideal chance to end difficult chapter and show supporters the true Blues

AS one door closes, another one opens. And as the 2012 calendar year draws to a close, tomorrow night presents an opportunity to start afresh.

Interprovincial battles sharpen the senses like no other games and with a fired up Connacht in town, it will take a significant effort to regain that winning feeling. Both sides will be primed.

The season of goodwill? Not likely.

For Devin Toner, the province's 20th player to reach the 100-cap milestone and a veteran of many games against the Westerners, this weekend is about parking the past, learning from mistakes and looking positively into the future.

"After the disappointment of the last few weeks we're ready to start afresh," the 26-year-old second row admitted ahead of tomorrow night's showdown.

"We have a big test on Saturday at home in the RDS and we also have a point to prove because last weekend was a frustrating one. We were a little careless at times and lacked a bit of shape. Against a good side like Ulster they will punish you and it was a hard lesson for us to learn.

"Whenever you play in these kinds of games (interprovincials) there's a great sense of familiarity because you know each other so well. I've played in lots of these games over the years and they're always the same; hugely physical and ultra-competitive. Saturday won't be any different."

Festivities aside, it has been a fairly normal week for the panel. On weeks where games fall on a Saturday, players usually receive a day off, which is how it was on Christmas Day after a gruelling pitch session on Christmas Eve and they were in again on St Stephen's Day.

For the Toner family, as you'd expect for a man pushing seven feet in height, Christmas is quite a large event. "Yeah, you could say that! I have a big family and numbers wise my folks had 12 people on Christmas Day and 17 on St Stephen's Day, so it's all a bit chaotic, but great to catch up with family and friends.

"We had relatives from my home town of Moynalvey, from Malahide and from Carlingford, where my father Peter is from, so there was a good provincial spread across the three counties! Dad grew up near where the Kearney family are from and both of our grandmothers now live in the same nursing home.

"On 'down days', players usually put the feet up and don't exert themselves too much physically so Christmas was a nice chance to do the same."

Did the festive spirit extend inside the Leinster camp? "It did," the Ireland international said with a grin.

"We had a bit of a get together last weekend and there was a Kris Kindle amongst the players which I actually came out of quite well. So a big thanks to Dominic Ryan who got me a 'Human Planet' DVD and some Butler's hot drinking chocolate! I got Seanie (O'Brien) the 'Breaking Bad' boxset.

"Come to think of it, there were actually some good presents across the board for once this year.

"We were in on Christmas Eve and we had a good session. The focus was good and positive and the lads are really keen to get back to winning ways after a challenging couple of weeks."

Is it a chore winding up for matches when the rest of the country are on wind down? "To be honest after six years playing professionally you just get used to it.

"Moderation is the key. We only have a few years to play, so we're enjoying it while we can. There will be many more Christmases to enjoy when your career finishes.

"From my point of view -- and I think you can say the same for all the players -- there's a real feeling of wanting to right some of the mixed performances we've had recently.

"It's a trial time for us all and there are some huge tests ahead, so you want to be in the frame and none of us want to miss out on games.

"Playing in front of big crowds is why you work so hard in training on those cold winter mornings, but we know that we have a huge test to face on Saturday against a Connacht side who could have gotten a win against Munster last weekend and will now be gunning for us.

"Starting a new chapter in our season adds a little bit of pressure, naturally, because our form hasn't been great over the last couple of weeks.

"Our sole focus is to put in the effort this week and to perform at our best this weekend."

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