Opportunity knocks for O'Leary on Grenoble return
Published 05/04/2016 | 02:30
When he joined Connacht in the summer of 2014, Shane O'Leary would have hoped to have accumulated more than nine first-team appearances as the end of his second season approached.
Yet, had you offered him the chance to start his 10th game at out-half for his adopted province's Challenge Cup quarter-final away to his old club Grenoble, the 23-year-old Clare native would have taken it.
He is unwilling to tempt fate and assume that he will be wearing the No 10 jersey for the Westerners at Stade des Alpes, but injuries to Jack Carty, AJ MacGinty and Craig Ronaldson mean it is almost certain that he'll be leading the backline.
Last Friday, he impressed away to Ulster despite picking up a very harsh yellow card in the closing stages and it seems likely that he will get another opportunity to shine in France on Saturday night.
"You never wish that anyone gets injured because you can be in the same position yourself," he said.
"But, if you're handed an opportunity, you've got to grab it with two hands and that's what I'm trying to do. I'm doing all of my little extras, the boys are helping me out and I'm trying to make the most of it. The atmosphere over there in Stade des Alpes is always incredible. They have the bodhrans and their flags and everything. They are real loud, real vocal.
"Grenoble are a strong team, they are real physical. I know they are when I played there, and they have got that bit of flair as well.
"Their No 10, Jonathan Wisniewski, is going really well at the moment as well. They are all things to look at through the week, and we will have our game-plan going over, we'll fully expect to win if we can implement our game-plan."
The year in Grenoble demonstrates O'Leary's less than conventional route to the top.
When he wasn't selected for the Ireland U-20s, he lined out for Canada who he qualifies for through his mother who was born in New Brunswick. Having missed out on an Academy contract with Munster, the Young Munster back's agent sent his CV around to a number of European clubs and Grenoble, with the help of his old club coach Mike Prendergast, brought him on board.
He played five Challenge Cup games for the Top 14 newcomers, but was just too old to fit into the league's rules about French-produced players. Bernard Jackman recommended him to Connacht's Pat Lam, so he returned to Ireland to begin another new adventure.
"It comes down to every player and his ambition," he said of his move.
"I know moving away is just not for some people. I took a chance and it's tough to pack your own life and go away. It is hard to leave my family and my mates. When I was over there initially it was really difficult.
"I was homesick for the first couple of months and then the language clicks and you settle in. It depends on each player. I definitely recommend it. It has been a great life experience for me. I find I am much more cultured.
"I kind of speak a second language now, which I have used in Ireland as well, and I have French cousins too. It has been great to communicate with them a bit more. If you are prepared to pack your stuff up and head away, I would definitely recommend it.
"Of course, it will give you an opportunity if you can prove yourself over there, you get a bit of game-time, and then essentially if you want to move home again you try and get a contract at home, keep looking at it's definitely another pathway that people can look into.
"I'm sure there'll be a bit of banter, with the week that's in it. They'll be gunning for me, but I'll be gunning for them too."