Mike Haley is flourishing in a conference-topping Munster team. Ahead of Saturday's Irish derby at Connacht, find out more about the full-back hoping for an Ireland recall


Mike Haley on lockdown, lineouts and fantasy league

Seven out of eight domestically, two out of two in Europe – it’s been a fine start to the season for Munster. Now they face Connacht – one place below them in Conference B – in a mouth-watering Guinness Pro14 derby at The Sportsground in Galway on Saturday night (7.35pm).

Mike Haley has been instrumental to Munster’s success. Capped by Ireland in 2019, the former Sale Sharks full-back has quickly hit his stride this season following a prolonged absence with a calf injury sustained during summer training.

His game understanding and management, including an increasing willingness to step into the first receiver role, is thriving under the influence of senior coach Stephen Larkham. He has made the most metres (232) and offloads (six) in Munster’s league campaign.

We caught up with the 26-year-old Haley a few months ago for an ‘Inside the Mind of’ article that was published in our July 2020 issue. Here’s what he had to say…

Mike Haley v Harlequins

So close: this effort by Haley against Harlequins was disallowed but Munster are flying this season (Inpho)

“IT’S MAGICAL to pull on the red jersey of Munster. The support is unbelievable, especially on big European nights at Thomond Park or in Cork. Last year (2018-19) was a big learning curve for me, it was the first year I’d moved away from a (pro) club, I had things going on in my personal life, like my little boy was born, a massive part of an upwards trajectory.

“This year I’ve settled down. I’ve really enjoyed my rugby, the counter-attacking. The try I scored against Ospreys showed that. It felt like I was back to my best.”

“MY EARLIEST rugby memories are the 2003 World Cup. I enjoyed watching Joe Rokocoko, Dan Carter, Jason Robinson, Brian O’Driscoll. It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the forwards.

“My old man (Tim) was a second-row for Preston Grasshoppers and made sure I learned my trade. He’s one of the only people who went straight from the colts to the Strollers. They would have drinks before and after the game but were a very good team. I used to roll along with them. That’s when I fell in love with rugby.”

Joe Rokocoko at 2003 World Cup

Class act: All Black wing Joe Rokocoko in action against France at the 2003 World Cup (Getty Images)

“I PLAYED in the back row until I was 16. At Sale I’d say to the lineout callers, ‘Come on, you’ve got to get me up!’ So we did it as a joke in training and it worked out, so they put me up in a game. It was nerve-racking but I nailed it. Then at Munster they said they wanted to put a back up and I put my hand up straightaway. And I nailed that as well, against Racing and Saracens. So I’m three out of three – a 100% success rate in the lineout!”

Mike Haley Inside the mind Preston's Sean Gregan

Childhood hero: Sean Gregan of Preston North End in action against Birmingham City (Getty Images)

“I SUPPORT Preston North End. We used to live about 1oo yards from Deepdale, so even if you weren’t at the game you would hear the roar when they scored.

“When I was young, one Christmas I got up very early and grabbed a present to open on my own. It was a Sean Gregan Preston North End top – just what I wanted. But my dad was so disappointed because he wanted me to enjoy it (the moment) with the family. I felt so guilty. It sticks with me to this day.”

“WHEN I was younger I could eat and eat and not gain weight. The nutritionist at Sale said I needed to get my calories higher, so I filled the freezer with pizzas. One of the lads found this hoard and they started calling me Pizza Boy. It was a running joke but I’ve calmed down since then. Italian is my favourite food.”

“I LIKE ancient history. If I was on Mastermind and couldn’t choose sport as my subject, I’d do that. When I was younger I was interested in Greek mythology, the Roman era. Recently I found Rome Total War on my phone. It’s an Age of Empire-type game where you take over the world. In lockdown if you need a game that’s going to take up hours, that’s the game.”

“WHILE AT Sale I went on loan to play for the first team at Preston Grasshoppers. I also had a short stint at Rotherham but didn’t play any games. I went to Hutton Grammar School and had a stint at Hartpury College. My year would have been Billy Burns, Callum Braley, Ross Moriarty, Elliott Stooke – it was a very good year. I was only there for a year, then went back up to Myerscough (College) and then rejoined Sale.”

Mike Haley, last game for Sale

Fan club: Haley with Sale Sharks supporters after his last game for the English club in 2018 (Getty Images)

“SALE ARE one of the best clubs because they blood youngsters, it’s a sink or swim attitude. By the age of 23 I’d played 109 games for them and learnt a vast amount. Then I was able to go to Munster and chase my dream (he made his Ireland debut in a RWC 2019 warm-up against Italy). It was disappointing to miss out on the (2020) Six Nations camp, but I had a good phone call with Andy Farrell. I’m working hard.”

“WHEN I broke into the Sale team, before my Premiership debut against Northampton, Danny Cipriani was a big mentor for me. He pulled me aside and said, ‘Whatever your first decision is, go with it. Don’t doubt yourself.’ It’s the best advice I’ve ever had.”

“I LIKE NFL, NBA, rugby league, football – I’ll pretty much watch any sport. I’m part of an NFL fantasy league at Munster. On a Sunday you might have NFL RedZone on, you’ll be sat there, it’s seven hours, crazy. We had two leagues, I won one of them. Then there was a more serious league that Tyler Bleyendaal won twice in a row.”

NFL action Steelers v Bengals

Big fan: Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals in NFL action – a favourite sport of Haley’s (Getty)

“FOR ME, (summer) lockdown was nice. I spent way more time with my family and the good weather was a godsend. I met my partner, Lucy, four years ago and we have a little boy (born January 2019). I call him Frank, Lucy calls him Frankie, it’s an ongoing battle!

“The key was keeping to a structure, getting my gym work or run done early in the day. We have a black lab called Bob, who goes on longer runs with me. Anything short, where there’s a lot of turning, he jumps into me as I turn corners!”

“MY FIRST job was when Dad took me on as a trainee accountant. It was the worst thing he ever did because I was shocking at it! I was 17 and just about to sign a contract for Sale, and my head was elsewhere.”

Mike Haley Munster v Clermont

Elusive: Haley evades Damian Penaud during Munster’s fantastic win in Clermont last month (Inpho)

“IN TERMS of a favourite try, there were a couple for Sale that stick out in my mind. One was against Harlequins away. And Exeter at home, where the ball bounced up, a nice little touch of the foot to chip it up to myself. For Munster, I enjoyed the try against Ospreys (2020), I felt like I was back to my running best there. I’ve really enjoyed my rugby this year and that try kind of showed it. Hopefully there are a few more better ones to come.”

“THERE’S A number of great characters at Munster. In fairness in any rugby team you’ll find a couple of characters in there who are unique to the environment. At Munster, Dave Kilcoyne is definitely one of the funniest guys. An absolute character, he’s a very funny bloke.”

“MY MUM (Siobhan) is a nervous spectator. We were playing Exeter at home (January 2019) and it was close. I think Joey (Carbery) hit a kick to take us two points up. The atmosphere was absolutely electric, it was one of the best games crowd-wise I’ve been involved in.

“So I said to my mum after the game, ‘Did you enjoy it?’ She said ‘Yeah, but I only saw about 65 minutes because I went to the toilets, I couldn’t bring myself to come out, I just hid in there!’ I had to give her a hug! She wasn’t with my dad, they brought two friends over as well, so my dad was in the standing stand and my mum just left her friend to sit on her own!”

Munster v Exeter Jan 2019

Tense encounter: Munster v Exeter in 2019, a match too exciting for Haley’s mum to cope with! (Inpho)

“I’M AN ambassador for Looseheadz, the mental health charity. They’re a great bunch of lads, from Wilmslow rugby club. Rob (Shotton) would have been good friends with Sam James and Sam James is my best mate. So they got Sam involved and I was living with Sam at the time, so I got involved through him. It’s such a great cause.”

Can’t get to the shops? You can download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.

Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.