RONAN O'Gara has defended his gambling lifestyle and spoken about the spiralling rumours that have dogged his career.
The Munster star has also said he has put a stop to the days when he did "too much" gambling -- and admitted he has lost "a fair bit of money" on betting.
The Ireland out-half was speaking before he launched his autobiography, which details the sport star's career and personal life to date.
He told the Sunday Independent about the rumours that he overindulged in gambling, O'Gara said, "I was always fond of [gambling]. My interest in horses began when I was 16 and I have been tipping away for years and years.
"It's only in hindsight that I feel I did do a bit too much. There was never a point that I said 'I've got to stop here' but looking back, there were times when I was too keen to get home after training and watch racing."
However, the Irish international denied that it had any effect on his game, saying: "It never affected my preparation or performance. I think that it's important to have a distraction away from rugby. For me, that distraction is horse racing, along with other business interests, and when I have time now I can still have a flick at the racing channel."
Describing the type of gambler he is, he said, "I would be
a spontaneous punter. I'm not good at it."
When asked how much he has lost to date through gambling, O' Gara replied, "I don't know what the [exact] amount
is but I did lose a fair bit of money. But from my point of view, I don't think it's anyone's business and it was my own money to lose. It's my money that I go to the bank and take out and I can spend it on whatever I like. But if I'm in debt to people, then that's a different story obviously."
Speaking about the rumours that multi-millionaire businessman and racehorse owner JP McManus bailed him out of an alleged gambling debt, O'Gara said, "I don't have any idea where the JP McManus rumour came from but it was prominent in Cork.
"I was disappointed for him to have to be drawn in to something like that. He has to be one of the most generous men in Ireland and the fact that he has supposedly bailed me out, I just think it didn't do him any favours either.
"It would be different if I knew the man well and I was a friend of his and I could have a laugh with him about it, but I don't know this man so it's a breach of his privacy as well."
Speaking about his early days in the world of rugby and his wish to give an honest account of his life in the book, O'Gara said:
"There was a fair bit of drinking that happened in the earlier days but that's exactly what happened, there's no point telling otherwise. It's not the perfect lifestyle by any means but it's my story, it's not your average person's story and that's the way it is."
He added, "Of course, there are things I look back on that I wouldn't be too proud of but that's what happened. There isn't anything that sticks out in my mind but in general there are a few areas that I was less professional than I needed to be. I've realised [since] that when you have a good lifestyle and you have a good diet, it makes you a better player. But [also] you can live like a hermit and it still won't make you a better player. It's important to get the balance right."
The Munster star also described how he made a conscious decision that his much talked about relationship with wife Jessica, a primary school teacher, should remain private and not be played out in the spotlight -- unlike the relationships of other well-known sports stars.
"I wouldn't be singing from the rooftops about my marriage, I'm a very private person in that regards. I've known Jess since I was 10 or 12 years of age and herself and I are extremely happy.
"I'm very conscious that I don't want to become someone like David Beckham and Posh Spice and the people that seek that kind of lifestyle. My whole belief system would be completely contrary to that."
O'Gara, who was the Six Nations' top points scorer during the 2005, 2006 and 2007 seasons and who has long been regarded as one of the best out-halves in the history of Irish sport, also described how he has stayed grounded by keeping the same tight-knit circle around him throughout his rapid rise to fame.
"Ten years ago, rugby was supported by 200 people and [the fan base] has spiralled rapidly since but I still have the exact same friends that I went to school with and just because the game has gained in popularity and I get paid for what I'm doing, doesn't make me a different person. And that's the most important thing for me. But the game has been very good to me and I'm very appreciative of that."
The Munster star also spoke of how upsetting it has been to see the effect that the "black, spiteful rumours" of a marriage breakdown has had on his wife, Jessica, whom he calls his "best friend". The couple were married in 2006.
Speaking about the unsubstantiated reports which came to a height during last year's Rugby World Cup, O'Gara said, "I bear no grudge and it doesn't cost me a thought about what happened during the world cup but I was disappointed and upset for my wife and for me.
"Of course, it upset me seeing how it upset Jess and I don't think it was good for my parents either because people at 55 and 60 years of age gossip as well, you know. Everyone had their own version of events.
"But I can't go around telling all the people in Ireland exactly what the truth was and it was never my intention to do that."
Speaking of when the rumours were at their height, O'Gara says, "Jess was upset but she has been very strong. After a while she just became sick of them but there was nothing we could do about it."
The Munster player described how things came to a head when a reporter called to his home and questioned his wife about their supposed marriage break-up -- unaware that O'Gara was in the house at the time. O'Gara charged out of the house and demanded that the journalist apologise for upsetting his wife.
"I was disappointed that the reporters called to my home. I just never saw that day coming when I started playing rugby. But it goes with the territory now and it'll probably happen again. I've accepted now that that's just the way it is and I'm not going to live my life based on what other people think."
Speaking about the effect the rumours have had on their relationship, he said, "I think people who know me think I need to be picked up after this. It has had no impact on me or our relationship. Myself and Jess have plenty of good things going on in our life that are simple things, that's the way we live our life. I don't need to build her up by writing in a paper how good she is."
O'Gara, who is reported to have landed a six-figure deal with book publisher Transworld for the autobiography, said he was reluctant to put pen to paper at first.
"Probably in the past I would have been afraid of something like this but I'm not nervous about it now. I was always anti-doing a book, especially when I was playing, but to be straight out about it, I got a good offer and I think it's an honest account about what has gone on so far," he said.
The book, 'Ronan O'Gara, My Autobiography', is published by Transworld Ireland and is available in all bookstores now, priced €19.99. Ronan O'Gara will sign copies in O'Mahony's Bookshop, O'Connell Street, Limerick at 11am on Saturday, October 11 and at noon the following day at Eason's, Patrick Street, Cork.