The Big Interview: Shane O'Leary - Versatile kicker vows to seize rare chance at crunch time
Glut of injuries has handed former Grenoble man a chance to shine against old colleagues
Published 08/04/2016 | 02:30
The chances have been few and far between for Shane O'Leary this term, but everything seems to be coming together at the right end of the season as the well-travelled Galwegians clubman fights for his place in the Connacht starting XV.
Last weekend against Ulster was his first Pro12 start this season, and although it was marred by a late yellow card, the 23-year-old gave a composed display that kept Connacht in contention until he was sin-binned late on.
In all O'Leary has 15 appearances for the province, in two seasons since he joined from Grenoble at the start of 2014-15.
O'Leary has been all over; beginning his journey in Cork, the family moved to Limerick for two years, before they settled in Ballina Killaloe, County Tipperary.
He went to school in Killaloe, played underage rugby for Ballina Killaloe RFC, before that was amalgamated with Scariff in east Clare - O'Leary's father Declan was involved in the amalgamation.
He remained there until U-19s where he joined Young Munster and then he went on to play his professional rugby in France, before he returned to Ireland for his stint with Connacht.
He also featured for the Canada U-20s - his mother Delia is Canadian - but O'Leary is solely focusing on Connacht for the time being as he looks to secure himself a regular No 10 slot.
"There's been a couple of opportunities in the last couple of weeks. I was involved in a couple of squads and I am getting a bit of game-time now so I am enjoying that," he says.
"It's good to be versatile. You find yourself being in more squads because of it.
"But no-one wants to become a jack of all trades but a master of none. But I enjoy playing the different positions too. It's a good thing, I like it.
"They are all big games now nearing the end of the year. That's what we have been doing all year. We are just looking at the next game and focusing on that."
And with so many injuries in the out-half position in recent weeks, O'Leary has had to put the team first as looks to guide them into the play-off places in the Pro12, and this weekend, a semi-final in Europe.
"You never want to see anyone get hurt or injured. It can happen to you just as easy. But at the same time, since I have an opportunity now I need to grab it with both hands.
"I need to do my part for the team, and just try and perform as well as I can for Connacht.
"It will be interesting to go back to Grenoble again. We played against them in pre-season and we came off second best in that game. We want to be better off in this game.
"We just hope it goes well, we have done all of our homework and study, dissected them like we do every team, and then we go over and hope everything goes well.
"The team has changed quite a bit since I was there, but I would know a couple of them fairly well.
"And Mike Prendergast and Bernard Jackman are over there as well. I would be close to them, having worked with Mike before that in Young Munster too.
"Then there is more of an Irish connection when you go out there. They have James Hart, he was there when I was there. And now they have Denis Coulson and Chris Farrell too. So there's a huge Irish connection.
"Off the field it would be great to get the bragging rights. But I will just be focusing on helping the team win if I get my chance."
Last weekend's 18-10 defeat to Ulster broke Connacht's impressive seven-game winning streak, but the defence they displayed in the final minutes, with just 13 men on the field, showed all that's good with Connacht at the moment.
After Grenoble, Connacht will go in search of even more history when they face off against Munster at the Sportsground with huge amounts at stake once more.
To do the double over Munster would be another massive statement as the unprecedented success in 2015-16 continues to build and build.
But the players remain level-headed throughout, and O'Leary is no different.
The Corkman knows the significance of the next couple of weeks, but is also aware that the hard work won't end there if Connacht want to fulfil their potential this season.
They may not have expected to be where they are coming into Round 20 of the league, and also be in a Challenge Cup quarter-final. But there's nothing stopping them from going even further if they keep up the good work.
"I am working on improving my game all the time," says O'Leary.
"My kicking, my passing, my game-management was a big one for me. Learning to play ten, my distribution skills as well. We have been doing lots of work with Conor McPhillips, Dave Ellis, Andre Bell and Pat Lam.
"It's quite a while since we have beaten Munster twice. So that's definitely huge for us. But we are looking at the Grenoble game first and we will look at Munster then.
"It would be great to win silverware this year. Any team you play on, you want to think you are about to win silverware.
"But we have said all year, top six, and we keep our next game focus all the time. After the Leinster game it was on to Ulster, and we will keep that mindset until the end of the season."