Saturday 10 December 2016

'European animal' still setting high standards in league push

Province's most-capped player determined to add more silverware in a glittering career

Daragh Small

Published 10/04/2015 | 02:30

Donncha O'Callaghan
Donncha O'Callaghan

It's nearly 14 months since Donncha O'Callaghan became Munster's most-capped player. The Corkman has now notched up 263 appearances for the province but he took centre stage when he replaced Dave O'Callaghan to make his 241st in a 36-8 victory over Zebre at the then Musgrave Park.

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However, the 36-year-old didn't feature in Europe at all this season and he feels he has fallen down the pecking order somewhat.

Sixteen appearances in the Pro12 suggest differently but he can't get past the fact he's had less game time in the Champions Cup.

"I have been disappointed, when you are not playing in the big games and when you are out of Europe you wouldn't be happy with the season.

"You look at the game time you are getting. Everyone wants to be playing week in, week out and I think I am one of them players that goes better when I do that.

"Like everyone else, you just judge yourself on the results and you go when they have games. So I have been lucky to be involved in a lot of the games that we have gone well.

"But I think I am a European animal when it comes to it. I have tasted what it's like to taste success and not to get much game time I found disappointing.

"The frustration of not going out. You watch the Six Nations, you've been there and you know the reasons why you are not there.

"I am not playing enough big games and maybe your performances are not up to scratch but you have that itch and you want to be there. And that is the thing for me body-wise I feel in great shape.

"I probably feel better now than I did three or four years ago when I was week in, week out getting the s**t kicked out of me," he said.

It was a tough start to the season for Munster and the subsequent elimination at the pool stage of the Champions Cup was hard to take.

O'Callaghan, who has also been capped for Ireland on 94 occasions, believes that Munster Rugby is judged on its success in Europe.

However, having played 155 times in the Pro12, he knows the importance of the domestic league and its competitiveness.

"Not being in Europe is a massive disappointment for us and just watching the quarter-finals and not being there is not us and it's not what we are about.

"There has been a huge disappointment with that and we are only in one competition now. That has to drive you, that bitter sense of being out at this time of the year is not good enough and all we are left in is the Pro12 and we will have to put down massive performances to do well in it.

Tough

"When it's all you can achieve it would be great to win. It is a tough competition and I think it is one of the best leagues in Europe.

"I know the other ones have higher profiles but if the top team plays the bottom team there can still be an upset. And you see it with how close the first and seventh teams are. It is a great competition."

Munster's cause will be greatly aided by the influx of talent like Francis Saili next season but O'Callaghan thinks foreign imports need to live up to their billing.

"It's great to see Munster signing a guy like that. Everyone is excited and you just hope that the new guys buy into Munster and not only that, they bring a bit of themselves to it as well. You look at the great signings we have had. They have not only been great players but they have left a legacy and that is what we need a new signing to do.

"We need the John Langfords, the Rua Tipokis. The guys who not only come in and play brilliantly but leave a little bit behind that encourages a change in culture.

"From chatting to the coaches and everyone around Munster, he seems to be a great guy. Just looking at some of his performances he is a hell of a player. But hopefully when he comes in not only will he be a great player but also be a guy that sets high standards."

One person who sets the highest standards in the province is Ireland captain Paul O'Connell.

Along with current skipper Peter O'Mahony and stand-in Denis Hurley, O'Callaghan thinks Munster is packed with natural leaders.

He also doubts that long-time second-row partner for club and country, O'Connell, will retire when he is playing some of the best rugby of his life.

"It was good having Denis as captain. He is a good guy and we are lucky that we have a few leaders within our squad like that.

"And the big thing for me is Denis is a guy that I respect. It is easy to give him everything when you like a guy and when you respect him and you know he is going to give it his all as well.

"That is a big thing for me with Denis because I know it means so much to him. I know that he is going to bring his best performances so I don't want him worrying about me. I am going to throw it down for him as well so it has been good."

"But I don't see why people would be saying it is Paul O'Connell's last season, they should be judging off what he is doing.

"I think if Paul is playing the type of rugby he is playing now he should keep on playing and that's the nature of him. He is competitive, granted you don't recover probably as well as you once did but he knows himself.

"When you have a guy playing world-class rugby, it is mad when you talk about him finishing up. I think there is plenty of rugby left in him and I wouldn't believe the hype."

Irish Independent

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