Friday 22 September 2017

O'Malley aims to make most of time on Leinster centre stage

David Kelly

David Kelly

What can life be like for the perennial understudy?

Always waiting in the wings, only occasionally shining. Knowing that however much your presence is appreciated, you're still utterly dispensable.

The substitute teacher of the sporting world.

Eoin O'Malley is fulfilling that role at Leinster -- and that's not damning him with faint praise. He knows it too. You put it to the 23-year-old that this evening's clash with Glasgow will probably be his final start of the season.

"Well, yeah, hopefully it won't work out that way, but I know what you mean," he says, not entirely discomfited by the supposition. Still, 15 Magners League starts -- and a try-scoring Heineken Cup debut against Saracens -- paints a picture of someone emerging from the chrysalis.

It could have been so much easier to flee to Connacht; instead, he persevered and his patience is slowly being rewarded. He's glad he toughed it out.

"I am, definitely. It's been a couple of years I have really enjoyed. I had a tricky run with injuries for a little while, but since then I have really enjoyed it and it is a great place to be.

"Obviously, there are not too many clubs in Europe at the moment still looking to win two trophies. I really don't think I can have any regrets from that regard."

And he knows that without the likes of him and a variety of quality shadow players, Leinster would not be in a position to tag this title on to their prime aim of European glory -- a home semi-final should be guaranteed this evening.

"I'm hungry for a game at the moment," he says. "When you're not involved it is a huge motivation for you, with the pressure of just continuing that good work and adding to the team.

"Everyone feels part of it. I think that is why we have done well at times of the year when we're missing people for Six Nations and things."

Do not for a second think the main actors are not grateful; sometimes, they are fearful of this next wave of talent. Why else would Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll almost beg to face Aironi away last time out?

"The two lads are playing really well and both have a real hunger to play. I suppose you'd have to ask them about it... there were probably not many guys in the changing room who weren't keen to go.

"There is a lot of competition around the place at the moment, so I don't think anyone wants to leave the jersey for too long."

Needs must, however, and with potentially three knock-out games imminent in successive weeks the team, captained by Jamie Heaslip, this evening shows 10 changes, one positional, from that which defeated Toulouse so gloriously last weekend.

Heaslip links up in the back-row with Dominic Ryan and Shane Jennings, with Kevin McLaughlin switching to second-row alongside Devin Toner. Jack McGrath makes his sixth Magners League appearance in the front-row alongside Richardt Strauss and Stan Wright.

D'Arcy lines up alongside O'Malley at centre, while Fergus McFadden is set to bring up his half century of caps in Leinster colours. Cian Healy is one of four international forwards on the bench.

Leinster are unbackable favourites against a Scottish team who have imploded since last year's power surge. of more interest will be the performances of McFadden, Isaac Boss and Jennings, a trio demanding inclusion in their coach's starting line-up later this month.

For his part, O'Malley will be up against an 18-year-old, Mark Bennet, handed his debut by Sean Lineen, once again restricted by Scottish coach Andy Robinson's decision to withdraw Richie Gray and Ally Kellock.

"It's a massive challenge," the coach says of tonight's tussle. "I think they are the form team in Europe, they play a brand of rugby that everyone wants to aspire to."

The last nine encounters between the two sides have all been won by the home side on the day, but the size of Glasgow's task is epitomised by the fact that Leinster are unbeaten at home in the regular Magners League season since September '08.

Take that run to continue well beyond the handi-capper's calculations and the eccentricities of referee James Jones.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster -- I Nacewa; S Horgan, E O'Malley, G D'Arcy, F McFadden; I Madigan, I Boss; J McGrath, R Strauss, S Wright, K McLaughlin, D Toner, D Ryan, S Jennings, J Heaslip (capt). Replacements: A Dundon, C Healy, M Ross, N Hines, R Ruddock, P O'Donohoe, I McKinley, D Kearney.

Glasgow -- P Murchie; F Aramburu, M Bennett, G Morrison (capt), D van der Merwe; D Weir, C Cusiter; R Grant, F Thomson, M Low, A Muldowney, T Ryder, J Eddie, R Vernon, J Beattie. Replacements: D Hall, J Welsh, K Tkachuk , R Harley, C Fusaro, C Gregor, R Jackson, P Horne.

Ref -- J Jones (WRU).

Leinster v Glasgow Warriors,

Live, TG4, 7.05

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