Edinburgh game is our season – lose and it’sall over
O’Callaghan demands ‘passion’ at Murrayfield after ‘rolling over’ in Cork
Published 11/01/2013 | 05:00
Donncha O'Callaghan's statement brooked no argument. It was short, to the point and emphasised just how seriously the Munster players are approaching Sunday's Heineken Cup date with Edinburgh at Murrayfield.
"It's our season," he declared. "It's everything, it's 80 minutes of rugby to have a chance to have 80 minutes more, otherwise it's over for us."
It's usually this way with O'Callaghan. He is not prone to exaggeration and rarely wastes words. When he says Munster are taking Edinburgh seriously, you're as well to believe him.
The second-row was rested for last weekend's defeat against Cardiff in Cork but, never being one to absolve himself from the fallout when Munster don't perform to their usual high standards, he was clearly hurting after sitting through the horror show in Musgrave Park.
"Yeah, like everyone in Cork that night. You felt disappointed for people who travelled down the road from Limerick, Tipp, Kerry and all over," he said.
"I met a fella coming out of the ground and he was heading home to Thurles afterwards. All I could think about was how I was going to be at home sitting on my couch when he'd still be driving. Something like that does make you appreciate just what our supporters go through.
"Then for the team to go out and put on a performance like that isn't something you come away proud of, so it was a disappointing one."
O'Callaghan has always been one of the Munster players who wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to the responsibility he shoulders every time he pulls on the red jersey. It's not contrived and is something that goes to the very heart of what makes O'Callaghan such a competitor.
"There are certain things people expect out of a Munster team, to go out to play with certain values and to keep going and fight for every point," he said.
"And I think we rolled over, which is something we've had to have a hard look at ourselves over. We let our supporters down, we let our squad and our coaches down, and from the players' point of view that's hugely disappointing."
Tales of Munster's training sessions in the week after a chastening defeat have become the stuff of legend over the years. Stories have escaped into the public arena detailing the brutality of some contact sessions, so it was surprising to hear O'Callaghan talk of a gentler approach this week.
"The lads are hurting, they were hugely disappointed with their performance and because we had the day off on Monday as well, it probably festered for a little bit longer.
"You find that it's more carrot than stick at the moment. You have to kind of help guys along and work with them. You have to nearly throw the arm around a bit and nearly tell fellas how good they are."
O'Callaghan is one of those who will be expected to show the necessary leadership to drive on the Munster pack. He is one of the few survivors from Munster's Heineken Cup-winning teams and he has built up huge experience, from the time he started playing at schoolboy level with Highfield. He is one of three brothers who began their rugby careers with their local club in Cork's western suburbs.
Two of the three (Donncha and Ultan, who also played for Munster) moved on to Cork Constitution.
It is a familiar route, well-trodden now by a succession of top-class players who grew up in a parish that has a multi-sport tradition but is more closely identified with the GAA – dual legend Jimmy Barry-Murphy and fellow All Stars Johnny Crowley (hurling) and Paul McGrath (football) also come from there.
It is a peculiarity that O'Callaghan, Ronan O'Gara, Ireland coach Declan Kidney, former Munster and Ireland scrum-half Brian O'Meara and former Munster players Dave and Tim Ryan – now with Zebre and Ospreys respectively – and Tom Gleeson (retired) all hail from Bishopstown, which isn't a recognised rugby stronghold.
Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley is also a Bishopstown native. That O'Callaghan and O'Gara played under Bradley at Cork Con gives the second-row an insight into the task facing Munster on Sunday.
"Brads was my first coach at Con. There is no way I – or anyone else with Munster – will ever take a side he's involved with for granted," said O'Callaghan. "And you know as well there are times when games can lift your season and be a turning point, and we know that they're quality players who probably haven't been performing as well as they'd like.
"So we know they'll be gunning for a performance. When you're in the position where you can play free and the shackles are off and you're not worried about anything, you can put in massive performances.
"There's a bit of drive for them there. Brads will also have them teed right up for this game. I've been in the dressing-room with him and know exactly what he'll be saying. I know exactly how much he'll want that win.
"Their hunger and that they can play with the shackles off because they have nothing to lose will be in their favour. Our motivation has to be greater than theirs this week and we're playing to stay in the competition – lose and it's all over.
"We have to bring the levels of intensity and the levels of passion, to show that we want it."