So, the quarter-final is out of the way, and an odd week it was too. The Queen of England was in town for for a civic reception, and the whole city was closed off for her arrival on the Wednesday. Training was scheduled for the far side of town, in the municipal stadium, for 3.00 but we had to try and find different routes and with fellas arriving in dribs and drabs, training didn’t start until 4.00.

Not alone was training reduced to an hour but all the talk in the dressing-room was of Benoit Baby’s father, who dropped dead that morning after a heart attack while doing the garden. Benoit is a talented young centre whose season was cut short by a cruciate knee ligament injury in the Heineken Cup win away to Leeds.
The lads agree that six or seven of our senior players should represent the squad by visiting his house the next day to express our sympathies.

We had most of the Thursday free until meeting up at 6.00 that evening at our normal base for home matches in the Meava Golf Hotel. All we really did that night was a video session, but there was a European Golf Classic involving teams from Italy, Spain and France, and instead of being given our usual rooms we were in the basement of the hotel.

As for the game itself, it was the usual Toulouse story. We underperformed for the first 40, at the end of which we led 10-7, but the second-half was much better. Our coach Guy Noves emptied the bench and you wonder sometimes are the guys on the bench better, because he always uses his replacements well. We won well in the end, by 36-10.

We had a great night, but first I flew up to the Killarney Bar to try and catch the second-half of the Munster-Stade Francais game. The best part seems to have been the first 40 and Munster left it fairly close in the end.

Because of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, we were given the Monday off aswell and judging by the lads’ appearances on the Tuesday that extra day seemed to have done the damage.

When I arrived at training all the guys were in a huddle discussing something. It turned out that they were signing a petition to the French Federation to say that they didn’t want the structure of the Championship to change. Currently it is comprised of 16 first division teams who are divided into two pools of eight playing each other home and away, before play-offs, but the Federation apparently want to revert to a 16-team format, home and away, which would mean a major increase in the number of matches played.

Under the current system, championship matches aren’t played when the Six Nations is on and our international players are on duty, but now they’re talking about playing right through the Six Nations aswell as some weeks of playing twice, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It seems crazy.

Last weekend we played Grenoble in the French Championship and there was no talk of a European Cup semi-final. We knew that if we won this game we were assured of a place in the top four play-offs for the Championship, so it was a very important game.

We beat Grenoble 52-24, but as well as we played I think they could have played a lot better. After the game I ran into Mark McCall and Allen Clarke, and found out that the lads were the new Ulster coaches. They were over looking at a player.

We went for a drink and then we met up with a St Mary’s man, Mick McGlynn, and his wife, for a nice steak and a bottle of wine. It was Mick who informed me that St Mary’s had been demoted, which left him crying into his wine. I had some great years there when Mary’s were consistently one of the top clubs in Ireland. I was captain when we won the AIL in 2000. It just goes to show how much the AIL has changed.

We came back into camp on Monday, and you still have to keep a wary eye out for the deep heat treatment. Freddy Michalak, being the showman he is, was wearing an Armani suit for a sponsor’s lunch after some treatment from the physio. He was also wearing black socks and black nicks, which made the deep heat less visible when Yannick Bru applied it while Freddy was in the shower.
We all pretended to mind our own business as we had a chat or went into the showers and waited. Slowly but surely you could see him becoming more agitated and suddenly bits of an Armani suit were thrown around the ground as Freddy raced back into the shower to try and cool himself down.

That night a neighbour of mine asked me if I’d go and visit a friend of his who’d been in a motorbike crash and was in hospital. The injured lad was only 17 years of age but had suffered brain damage. He is a big Stade Toulouse fan so I brought him along a few posters and to-shirts. Going home that night, it reminded you again how grateful you should be to have your health.

The talk in the dressing-room yesterday was that despite the petitions from all the players in Frace the proposal for an expanded Championship is going to go ahead next season.

We still have quite a few injury worries. Freddy was able to train a little yesterday after his ankle injury but he still has to convince Guy Noves that he’s fit enough to play against Biarritz in Saturday’s semi-final.

My wife and children headed home today for ten days as her sister is getting married soon and in the time they’re away we’ve got three big games, as we play perpignan next Wednesday and then Biarritz again in the French championship next Saturday.

They’re important as we’re jostling for home advantage in the semi-finals and only three teams can qualify for next season’s Heineken Cup through the championship as Castres have already got through by winning the League Cup earlier in the season.

As was the case last year, Toulouse are just going all out for both the Heineken Cup and the Championship. Althougth we lost the final of the championship last year I don’t think there’s any preference within the club. I’d love to win a French Championship but any silverware would be nice.

At the moment I’m tiling the kitchen floor in readiness for a few visitors: The father, otherwise known as The Fanatic or Six Bottles; the brother, Ronnie; Uncle George, also known as The Rotweiler; Declan McKeogh, aka The Bull; Peter Smyth, aka The Keg, and Kevin Corcoran, aka Corkey. If you need a safe, Kev’s the man.

They arrive tomorrow and will be taken to the game by a convoy of neighbours as the squad will have gone to Bordeaux by then. Biarritz beat Perpignan last weekend and there’s no doubt they’re on fire. It’s as big as any game I’ve been involved here. It’ll be like a French Championship final in effect, and I think it’s a 50-50 game.
The sun is shining here now, you’ll be glad to hear, and I’m off into the city centre for a three-hour coffee and watch the scenery go by.