Sport Rugby

Thursday 19 October 2017

Donncha O’Callaghan -- The holidays can wait

Donncha O’Callaghan speaks to Hugh Farrelly about his ‘toughest season’, how he feels he has turned a corner and his drive to be part of history on Saturday

Hugh Farrelly

DONNCHA O'CALLAGHAN had an interesting down day in Queenstown this week.

He enjoys the picturesque New Zealand tourist town (although he is quick to point out that "it's no West Cork") and on the morning of his day off, O'Callaghan decided to take a dip in the lake next to the team hotel.

After an experience that he says "froze the liathroidi off me" he woke up yesterday to find his Daniel Craig-esque picture -- topless, ripped, dripping water -- on the front page of local newspaper 'The Southland Times', causing him to be punished for narcissism by the other players.

They might have also been odd with his refusal to join them for golf the previous day.

"No interest," he says. "I kept to myself, sometimes I am just glad to get away from the mob. I can't get into the golf, the nicest fellas around turn into absolute k**bs -- all those little golfy rules.

"I remember going golfing with Micko (Mick O'Driscoll) and wanting to clobber him over the head halfway through when he took out a sandwich, a banana and a Mars bar and I was there starving thinking 'no-one tipped me off about this'.

"I said: 'Micko, give us half of your sandwich' and he told me to get lost, so I stormed off the course into the clubhouse and got a 'golfer's grill'. Golfers would bore the pants off you anyway, talking about their rounds and then you see them in the airport miming their swings.

expect

"So, I just hung out on my own. I ended up sitting in the room for a bit and then it was 6.0 and I had done nothing with my day so I went down to the cinema."

Did he go and see the science fiction film 'Prometheus' as many of the squad have on this tour?

"No, it was actually ... 'What To Expect When Your Expecting?'"

What???

"I know, I know ... I was sitting there, halfway through it, going 'what have I done here, this is a complete chick flick?' You'd always be paranoid in the cinema on your own too, you think they are looking at you.

"The other thing is that my missus Jenny would love this show and I could have saved it for when I got home and dived on the bullet as opposed to doing it on my tobler."

Mention of Jenny brings O'Callaghan on to his daughter Sophie, who is almost two. "You'd miss them fierce," he explains. "Skype is great, although the first time was a disaster, Sophie going in around the back of the computer looking for me and she's got the chicken pox as well, so it's hard being away. But I have always been able to put on the work hat and I love touring."

He would love it more if he was starting. O'Callaghan finds himself on the bench for the third Test in a row, a position he has become all too familiar with after losing his place with Munster.

"I hate not starting, hate it. I want to get back in the team. I hate any perception that you'd just be happy to be involved and the lads are getting a go now because your time is up.

"I am as hungry now at 33 as I was at 18. It's just mad, when I was young, I was looking at Gaillimh (Mick Galwey) going 'why is he always getting the benefit of the doubt?' and now I am going 'why are the young fellas getting the benefit of the doubt?'

"It has been frustrating. I am a sum of the parts man, when I am going well it is because I am doing my job right and it knocks on to the fellas around me -- high work rate, high tackle count and you want to do that from the start. The biggest thing for me in subbing is trying to get the balance.

"I have come on trying to get 80 minutes into 10 and you can't do that, you're trying to prove a point and that isn't the best for everyone around. There has been a bit of learning that way. It would kill me if I was coming on and looking to hare out of the line to make a big shot that would look 'great for Donners,' but probably leave us skinned on the outside.

"It has been one of the toughest seasons I have ever experienced. You question yourself -- do I need to change my game? What do I have to add to get my place back?

"But I have never felt that I had a right to it. I have always been driven by a bit of paranoia. I need a bit of a chip (on the shoulder) to push myself on, going back to growing up in Bishopstown, thinking other lads were looking down on me.

"I'd always chat to my brothers about things, but family can be a bit blinkered. I had a great chat with Tony (McGahan) and Axel (Foley) and they were just completely honest. Coming away from it, I felt like I got kicked in the stomach, but three or four days later, looking back at the videos I was going: 'They were right there, these are things I can work on'.

"I respond well to that kind of feedback. I don't need a buddy, I need someone who says: 'This is what we need you to do, pal'."

O'Callaghan did what he needed to do in an excellent cameo in Christchurch and, though there was the collective agony of losing a game they knew they had in their grasp, from a personal viewpoint it was hugely encouraging and strengthened his resolve for the future.

"Yeah, it just felt good to make an impact. I feel great, as fit as I have ever been. Ultan (older brother) played into his late 30s, so it's in the family and you look at the likes of Brad Thorn -- second-row is a position where you can definitely do that, it's about fitness, work rate, endurance. I have two years on my contract and I want to keep going. I hound the fitness and medical guys to maximise my condition. They are my rock. Maybe it's seems like hypochondria but I make no apologies for it. My body is my business."

When O'Callaghan was on the pitch, it looked like Ireland were poised to make history until Nigel Owens penalised them for a deliberate wheel in the scrum, allowing the world champions to set up a winning drop goal for Dan Carter.

"We wanted it re-set. There was no way we deliberately wheeled it, we don't have calls for that.

"Cian shot forward, I was behind Rossy (Mike Ross) and maybe if we had nudged on a bit more it would have looked different.

"But after that, they got a few soft yards in that final drive on pick-and-jams, which was disappointing. They went from their '22' to five metres out which is what we call 'deep red' and you should be defending like a dog, that was in our own hands."

history

And so to the next chance to make history by beating New Zealand, Saturday's third Test in Hamilton, with a well-earned break beckoning afterwards following this year-long season.

The perception in the build-up here is that the All Blacks have had their fright and Ireland had their shot.

"Yeah, that is what they think and fair play to them.

"We have to be driven by that Irish chip (on the shoulder) that they don't respect us and why should they? What have we ever done against them? They don't respect our leagues, the Pro 12 or Heineken Cup, they see it like Japan, a place for ex-All Blacks to go and make a few bob, but it is tougher than that.

"You could feel it coming last week in training, everyone was antsy, there were a few kiss-and-make-ups on the bus back to the hotel after a few bust-ups and that is when we are at our best, when we have that edge to us. It is about keeping it there.

"I just want to get on the pitch and influence a win.

"I am hugely disappointed not to be starting. I respect the selection, but it is hard to take -- but now it us up to me to show what I still have to offer and why I should be there.

"I'll be totally honest with you, I would do anything for the team. The holidays can wait."

Irish Independent

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