This was a year of huge change for Billy Holland, as he hung up his rugby boots for the last time and embarked on a new career in financial services. And if that change wasn’t enough, Holland’s second son, Seán, was born.
But though Holland misses playing rugby, he’s very grateful for the extra time he has with his family, and he’s facing the prospect of a very different Christmas this year. “I went into the academy when I was 18, and there was always a match, always some sort of a game on Stephen’s Day, and you were paring back a little bit on the grub and stuff. I’ve never, ever drunk on Christmas Day.
“With Munster you would have trained on Christmas Eve most times, and you would have had a match on St Stephen’s Day or December 27th. So when we had a match on the 27th it was like the best Christmas ever, because you got to really splurge on Christmas Day a little bit more on the grub.
"Christmas was a really, really busy time workwise, I suppose, from the age of 21 to last year. You had matches coming up. You had European matches before Christmas. And then you were up in Ravenhill probably on January 1st, up in Belfast, so it was challenging from a family point of view at times.
“I love Christmas,” Holland says. “I have great memories of Christmas, but this year will be a little bit different. Probably my favourite meal is my mother’s Christmas dinner,” he says, bravely. “I love it. I love it because we only ever get it once a year, no matter how much we ask her.”
Although Holland and his wife, Lanlih Keane, typically alternate between their two families at Christmas, they spent last Christmas isolating alone, as their son Matthew was deemed to be a close contact. Even though Holland says they were “very put out” when they realised this was going to happen, they “made the most of it” and “had an absolutely fantastic day”.
The father of three says his favourite Christmas Day was in 2018, when his daughter Emmeline came home from hospital for the first time. It was Emmeline’s only Christmas with her parents. “We went to Lanlih’s sister’s house in Dublin for Christmas dinner. And my family came up from Cork. My brother came over from Vancouver and all Lanlih’s family came up from Cork.
"It was just really special. It was the first time that we'd gotten Emmeline out of hospital. It was just so simple and perfect. We were really determined to try and get her out. The hospital were very accommodating in helping us out – and it was a big operation to do so. They were really special memories."
The couple have decorations with Emmeline’s name hanging on their Christmas tree in memory of their daughter, and they often light a candle over dinner “despite Matthew wanting to blow it out”, he says, laughing. “It represents Emmeline. We do a ‘cheers’ to Emmeline every now and then, and we’ll do it on Christmas day.”
Christmas 2021 is baby son Seán's first Christmas. "Christmas for me is all about the kids. Matthew is just beginning to realise what a present is – that it's not just the paper, that there's actually something inside it that he might like. Seán reminds us a lot of Emmeline; he's got a lot of her features. It'll be special just to sit around the Christmas tree and hold him."
Holland hopes 2022 will be a healthy, relatively normal year for everyone. “Seán, he’s growing up like Matthew, and just seeing people with masks as normal, and it’s a bit sad at times. In saying that, me and my family haven’t been affected really by Covid.
“So, yes, my hopes for 2022 are a bit of normality in life for people and society and a healthy year for my family. I can’t ask for a whole lot more than that.”