The big interview - Tiernan O’Halloran: 'It's great to hear Pat talk about winning the Pro12'
Full-back has shaken off quad injury in time for crucial title run-in as history beckons
Published 29/04/2016 | 02:30
A model of consistency again this season, Tiernan O'Halloran is a vital cog in Connacht's push for the Pro12 title. But when he went down injured, Connacht were still able to call on Matt Healy and Robbie Henshaw to fill the void at full-back, which showed the new-found depth that has taken the province to the next level.
But the 25-year-old is back fit and ready to add his considerable experience now. He cannot wait to get back playing again, and commends Connacht's strength and conditioning staff for the latest remarkable early comeback.
Connacht have one of the smallest squads in the Pro12, and when they were hit by injury over the winter months it put a huge dent in their Champions Cup qualification aspirations.
They fact that they have qualified with two Pro12 games remaining is a testament to the good work that has gone on behind the scenes, to keep these players fit and ready to play.
"The main thing is, when you are injured and you are in this return-to-perform group, they try and keep you integrated with the main squad, as much as possible," says O'Halloran.
"You are out watching every session. You are not really missing a beat, you have to change the plays, you have to do the calls for that week, you know if you if you had to slot in, even if you are injured, you could do it.
"That's the good thing, the way they work you back into the squad, they keep you on top of what's happening all of the time. So there's not that gap between the lads that are fit and injured.
"It depends as well how long you are out for. When you are injured you need to be keeping on top of your individual skills as well, anything you can - throwing passes off each hand and anything you can work on with our skills coach Dave Ellis.
"And that's why it's called return-to-perform. Because you need to be able to return from an injury and perform with the rest of the other lads, at this stage of the season you cannot afford to come back in and not be able to slot back in seamlessly with the rest of the lads."
O'Halloran has scored 18 tries in 98 appearances for the province, and he didn't think he would reach the century of caps this term, when he pulled up with an upper-quad complaint.
After Connacht's superb victory over Leinster in the Pro12, AJ MacGinty's injury meant they were short of numbers in the out-half position.
A number of players were drafted in to cover the place-kicking duties, along with starting No 10 Shane O'Leary. O'Halloran was one of those, and disaster struck towards the end of practice.
"I had already done a few kicks the week before because I knew we were getting a bit light on kickers," he recalls.
"On one of my last kicks, as soon as I made impact with the ball, I felt a bit of a pop up in my upper quad.
"I actually tore my quad a few years ago, it was similar to that feeling, but not as bad. It wasn't a tear, but I knew I had done something. At the time you think the worst and you think the season is over for you.
"It was after the Leinster win and everything seemed to be in a good place.
"I was hoping to finish the season strongly. I was really looking forward to getting a bit of ball, pushing on and getting into a bit of good form. But when something like that happens it's tough.
"The first day it happens you are down. But the main thing is, you don't want to show that to the rest of the lads. They are still on the pitch playing, so you don't want to be dragging them down.
"When I heard there was a possibility I could be back before the end of the season, straight away I flicked a switch and I said look let's work hard, eat well and try and get back."
And what a time to arrive back on the scene. O'Halloran has worked hard to get back fit, and with the sun shining, the pitches drying up and Connacht looking set to book themselves a home semi-final, it's all strictly positive at the Sportsground.
O'Halloran is one of the ever-green performers in the Connacht squad. Although still just 25, he has dedicated all seven seasons of his professional career to Connacht Rugby and it could all pay off this May.
"It's great to hear Pat (Lam) talking about winning the Pro12, it gives everyone confidence. But again, with the squad that's here, and the leadership in it. Everyone knows, no-one is looking too far ahead," says the Clifden native.
"It's just a massive thing to get a home semi-final so we are really focusing on these two games.
"And Treviso will look at this as their cup final. They need a win to get ahead of Zebre for their Champions Cup place. We are under no illusions going over there it's going to be a huge game.
"We maybe haven't been at the top of our game over there in the past. They are always tough competitors. We had to grind out the win there last season. We will be expecting the same again.
"After that if we beat Glasgow and we get a home semi-final here, we have only lost once at home this season, so we believe that we can beat anybody at home on our day.
"But we will work towards that if or when it arises. But for now, we are focused on these two games."