Sport Champions Cup

Sunday 31 August 2014

Quins owe it all to O'Shea – Monye

David Kelly

Published 10/01/2013 | 05:00

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As a Harlequins lifer, ask England and Lions star Ugo Monye just what it is that makes the London club so special and he pauses in repose, only ever so slightly, before his response.

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"Culture," he replies.

Ask the genial 29-year-old winger exactly what glues that culture together and hesitation is superfluous.

" Conor O'Shea," he instantly answers.

Clermont may be the competition favourites but Harlequins' claims are also hard to ignore – they top both their domestic standings and the Heineken Cup table that includes this week's opponents, Connacht.

At 7/1 joint third-favourites with Ulster, Quins represent much better value than French giants Clermont and Toulon – both are never better than 3/1 in any outlet this week.

And Monye firmly believes that the club's recent run of success owes much to the steady, guiding hand of the son of a Kerry football great.

"He's been incredible," enthuses the player who, now in his testimonial year, will make his 200th appearance for the club he joined from school over 10 years ago.

"For me, Conor has brought a raw honesty and freshness to this club. Prior to him we had Dean (Richards), and the two characters couldn't be more different. Dean was fantastic in setting the foundations.

"But Conor has really brought it forwards, got hold of it and set it all up. Hence our success. He's such an honest guy, such a good guy.

"One of the main changes I've seen here is the culture of the club. Everything has been driven from that. Once you can build the culture, you can develop the organisation and the playing style. If you don't have a culture within a club, the whole framework can crumble very quickly, regardless of how many good players you have or how you play rugby.

"It will be important for us to keep Conor here. He's our top man. And it will be important to keep him here, as important as keeping any of our best players.

"It's the best purple patch in the club's 100-year history. And it's no surprise that it's all come under such a top man like Conor."

If "top man" sounds all a bit too flashy Londoner for some austere tastes, well, some of it actually is. Moyne drives a flash car and wears brash suits (some of which he designs himself).

But those who have met him up close and personal – to which the touring Irish Lions contingent from South Africa in 2009 can attest – acknowledge a different side to the character.

The person who withdraws into deep, contemplative retreat in the minutes leading up to kick-off at the Stoop this weekend is a personality far removed from the image that may be portrayed on this side of the water.

After briefly snatching a hopeful prayer in conversation with mum, Florence, Monye steels himself for the most violent of sporting battles by retreating into a prism of deep, personal meditation.

Many may mock, as they also mock Ulster's phalanx of bible group members, but it is difficult to know why embarrassment should attend such rituals; after all, Mary Quinlan (Alan's mum) still delivers a miniature bottle of holy water to the Munster troops on match day.

For Monye, the pre-match ritual mirrors the faith he has shown towards the club that he only deigned to join upon the urgings of his old school coach Tim Richardson.

A renowned schools sprinter – he competed on level terms with future Olympians Mark Lewis-Francis and Tyrone Edgar – he fell in love with rugby under the tutelage of U-19 coach Colin Osbourne. It is little coincidence that both men remain at the club still.

"I guess it's testament to this club," he explains, despite lucrative temptations to join the Top 14. "I'm a big fan of the club and I would love to be still involved with them beyond my playing days.

"From the outset, I probably never expected to get this far. Your career can be taken away from you at any moment. There are constantly negotiations and temptations. I've had all of that, bad injuries and times when I've thought about going away. But it's difficult to escape the passion that I have for this club. It's really humbling."

Guarantee

After slipping up in round six last season, losing to Connacht, when two points would have secured a knockout berth, they host Eric Elwood's men this time around knowing that a point will guarantee them a quarter-final slot.

"We're a team that learns lessons very quickly," says Monye, who returns to the side this weekend.

"We made a lot of mistakes last year in the Heineken Cup. The competition there is so ruthless and so unforgiving that if you slip up once, that's you gone.

"We need to keep our feet on the ground. We need to concentrate on our own processes. If we can control those things, then hopefully the results will keep coming.

"It's a huge opportunity for us to qualify this weekend and we don't want to let it slip."

Irish Independent

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